Remarks by Dr. Timothy P. White - October 12, 2019

Remarks by Timothy P. White (as prepared)
Chancellor, The California State University
San Francisco State University College of Ethnic Studies
50th Anniversary Gala
San Francisco, California
October 12, 2019

Thank you, President Mahoney… and good evening.

It’s always great to be back on the San Francisco State campus, and it is a special honor and privilege to be with you at the culmination of the weeklong celebration of the 50th anniversary of the College of Ethnic Studies.

Just a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to Cal State Trustee Sy Abrego describe his experience as a student of color on a CSU campus during the late sixties. He recalled a turbulent time… a time of war… and a time when a generation of advocates for social justice challenged the status quo to confront our nation’s inequities. It was an era that saw the convergence of the civil rights movement, the United Farm Workers movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement.   

Trustee Abrego paused in reflection for a moment before adding, “At the time, CSU campuses were lonely places for people of color.”

I see some of you nodding, acknowledging the truth of that statement.

And while I, too, know that this was the case, when you look at our campuses, just 50 years later… it’s almost hard to believe.

The CSU is the most ethnically diverse university in the country. Today, more than half of our student body are students of color. One-third are the first in their families to attend college. And while we have more work to do to ensure that our skilled and dedicated faculty reflects the dynamic diversity of the students they teach, there’s no question we have come a long way since 1969.

So what spurred this transformation? To a great degree, it was events that took place on this and other Cal State campuses. While Berkeley is often cited as the center for social change in California, in many important ways, it was the CSU.

It was Cal State Dominguez Hills rising from the ashes of the Watts Rebellion.

It was San Jose State’s Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black-gloved fists on the medal podium at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

It was Sacramento State inviting Dr. Martin Luther King to speak in October of ’67… a time when few other campuses would.

And it was the student protests at Cal State campuses across California – perhaps most notably at Long Beach, Northridge, Los Angeles and, of course, here in San Francisco, where the protests and student strike resulted in the 1969 establishment of the nation’s first college of ethnic studies – which we celebrate tonight.

Over the past 50 years, the College of Ethnic Studies has provided thousands of San Francisco State students an education in the histories, cultures and intellectual traditions of native peoples and communities of color in the United States.

But equally important… the college has also provided these same students a sense of community. An opportunity to connect with students and faculty whose life experiences reflect their own. And a platform to find their voice… and to use it to advocate for positive change… in the local community, throughout the state and across the nation.

Indeed, the College of Ethnic Studies has had a profound impact on all of its students… but its impact doesn’t stop there.

It has been felt by the larger campus community… with students, faculty and staff benefiting from the events hosted by the college and by the important questions and issues on which the college shines a spotlight.

And it is evident in the arc of history… as it bends toward progress. The College of Ethnic Studies has not only given a voice to the history – and experiences – of communities of color… it has also informed and inspired other civil rights efforts… from women’s rights… to disability rights… to LGBTQIA rights.

The College of Ethnic Studies – as well as the events that took place on this and other CSU campuses a half century ago – represent a critical, foundational source of the dynamic diversity that is now such an intrinsic and inextricable part of the California State University’s DNA. In fact, academic excellence at the CSU is utterly dependent on the higher and richer learning that occurs for all students when a university is diverse in its people, programs and shared ideas.

So we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the San Francisco State College of Ethnic Studies… and to its students, faculty and staff, past and present. Thank you. Yours is a remarkable and enduring legacy. May your work continue to enrich lives and elevate families and communities for generations to come.