Story Diversity

CSU Campuses Recognized Nationally as Leaders in Diversity and Inclusion

Lorraine Crawford



​​​With six campuses ranked among the Wall Street Journal's "Top 10 Colleges in t​​he West" for diversity, the California State University (CSU) system is recognized nationally as a bellwether of diversity and inclusion. Its 23 campuses serve the United States' most economically, academically and ethnically diverse student population.

"CSU's commitment to supporting diversity underscores its efforts to eliminate all achievement gaps by underserved minority and low-income students," says Ray Murillo, director of Student Programs, CSU Office of the Chancellor.

Depending on its size, each campus has key staff overseeing its efforts to ensure a safe, welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, age, gender or disability.  Murillo says that while smaller campuses fold the responsibilities of ensuring diversity and inclusion under Human Resources, others have designated officers that oversee broad responsibilities and programs.

"Our diversity efforts encompass a multi-pronged effort, including ethnic studies, implementing state and federal policies, cultural centers, student programs, and most recently, the new 'Dreamer Centers' assisting undocumented students," he says. "Keeping up with the everchanging legal landscape, and state and federal laws, are our biggest challenges."

The CSU's efforts to encourage diversity and inclusion started following the passage of California's Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) for underserved students in 1969. California State University, Los Angeles was the first to establish a centralized position overseeing diversity and inclusion mission in the early 1970s. Last January, 2016, Octavio Villalpando became the Vice Provost for Diversity and Engaged Learning and Chief Diversity Officer for Academic and Student Life, in Cal State LA's newly-created position. The office oversees the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, including human resources policies and practices, and works to ensure all protected groups are receiving equal treatment and access to the application process, campus programs and services.

According to an informal systemwide survey, each campus is earning recognition and honors for its diversity and inclusion programs from a variety of sources. ranked San Francisco State University as the best large college for diversity, and The Wall Street Journal ranked it third among all colleges for its diversity efforts. The campus offers the only free-standing College of Ethnic Studies in the nation. California State University, Northridgewhich is recognized as enrolling the largest number of international students at a public comprehensive university, founded the nation's first Central American studies program in 2011; it was recently recognized by The White House for its efforts to diversify engineering fields among Hispanics. California State University, San Marcos received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity (HEED) award from INSIGHT into Diversity magazine in 2014 and 2015.

Murillo notes that CSU students are particularly diverse compared to other state schools. According to CSU's 2016 demographic report, about 40 percent of students are Hispanic/Latino; 16 percent are Asian/Pacific Islanders; and four percent are African American. One-third of undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college, and 54 percent of undergraduates are Pell recipients, a need-based federal grant for low-income undergraduates.

With the advent of President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and the California Dream Act in 2013, diversity and inclusion staffers are also overseeing the new "Dreamer Cent​​​ers." There are now seven centers designed to provide undocumented students with academic and emotional support, referrals to financial assistance, information on programs and services designed to improve retention and graduation rates, and a supportive environment where students can connect with one another.

CSU campuses with Dreamer Centers now include Fullerton, Sacramento, Long Beach, Northridge, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Bernardino and Sonoma. Four more Dreamer Centers are scheduled to open in 2017 at campuses including Channel Islands; Dominguez Hills; San Diego and San Luis Obispo.

Beyond their leadership, planning and policy responsibilities, diversity staff work closely with student groups and events that promote inclusion and outreach.  For example, CSU Dominguez Hills stages a Unity Fest Day cultural festival to celebrate the diversity of the campus community. California State University, East Bay's Gaining Access 'N Student Success (GANAS) serves newly arrived community college transfer students providing a supportive environment that focuses on Latina and multicultural content. Its Kaleidoscope Mentoring Program provides mentoring, tutoring and career development for undergraduate African American students to increase college retention and graduation rates.

San Diego State created the first Cultural Competency Certificate Program in the California State University system. The program consists of cultural diversity workshops, seminars and service learning opportunities exploring cultural assumptions, teaching students to look beyond someone's race, ethnicity, gender, orientation, family status or disability. Students completing the program are expected to use their cultural competencies to better access new and emerging markets.

Humboldt State University has a long-standing program to support Native American students. California State Polytechnic University, Pomona runs an annual cross cultural retreat. Its 27th retreat in January 2017 was called "Unpacking Hate, Hope, Advocacy, Teaching and Empowerment" and focused on creating "honest dialogue about diversity, social justice and building effective alliances across cultures."

Murillo notes that the variety and creativity of each campus's diversity efforts is boundless. "Each campus strives to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for every student to achieve success and graduate, no matter their background." ​