Diversity Story Hero
Diversity Hero

One University for All

In the midst of a tumultuous year, the CSU reaffirms its commitment to diversity and inclusion.


 

In a truly unprecedented year, marked by Black Lives Matter protests, a major Supreme Court decision on the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and a rise in harassment of Asian Americans amid COVID-19, the challenges of fostering diversity, inclusion and equity must remain at the forefront of public conversation.

As the largest and most diverse higher education system in the U.S., the California State University reaffirms its dedication to promoting diversity among its faculty, staff and student body and providing a welcoming environment for all individuals, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ability and socioeconomic status.

“As our society and our nation are pulled apart by the powerful, centrifugal forces of hatred, intolerance, bigotry, ignorance, selfishness and greed, our California State University with its 23 campuses—and the faculty, staff and students who comprise them—will continue to serve as vital and essential wellsprings of the centripetal forces that will hold us together and lead to critical discourse and analysis, to understanding, resolve, action and healing through the current and future crises," CSU Chancellor Timothy White wrote in a Call for Unity and Understanding in May.

Two male students talking across a table with campus staff

university-wide Support

The CSU has implemented a number of initiatives across the university to support underrepresented students. These range from the Education Opportunity Program that offers admission, academic and financial support services to Graduation Initiative 2025, which seeks to close academic equity gaps and reduce the length of time it takes for students to graduate.

We have “the ability to have a more comprehensive impact on a statewide level," says Luoluo Hong, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for student affairs & enrollment management at the CSU Office of the Chancellor. “For us, with 23 campuses scattered across the state, when the CSU adopts something as a system, we really do have a systemwide impact and footprint for what it is we're doing."

Campuses often carry out a mix of systemwide and campus-specific initiatives to uniquely serve their student bodies, like the Young Men of Color initiative at California State University, Bakersfield and several other CSU campuses, which provides male students of color with crucial mentoring during their academic career.

“Young men of color retention and graduation rates are significantly lower than other populations, and we're making sure they know we care about them, we care about their success and we're going to structure environments for their success," says Vernon Harper, Ph.D., CSUB provost and vice president for academic affairs, who often meets with the cohort.

Learn about other CSU academic success programs for students of color.


The Chicana & Chicano Resource Center at Cal State Fullerton.

Safe Spaces

Campuses also offer a variety of student centers on campus to provide resources and safe spaces for community building—from women's resource and pride centers to ethnic- and race-associated centers.

“We know academically, theoretically, analytically students will most likely stay at an institution if they feel a connection, and so one of the purposes of all of those centers is so the students can build that connection with people they know, with people they have a shared experience with," CSUB's Dr. Harper says. “That shared experience becomes a bond, and that bond becomes a bond with the institution."

In addition to creating micro-communities of students, the centers also aim to engage the broader student body by sharing the histories and stories of the respective centers.

“That's really to create a larger climate of people who are supportive of, who understand and who want to be allies for those populations," explains J. Luke Wood, Ph.D., San Diego State University's vice president of student affairs & campus diversity, and chief diversity officer.

Cal State East Bay professor Nicholas Baham, III, Ph.D., in front of his class.

Curated Curricula

“Diversity and social justice are critically important for those students to be able to see themselves in this institution," Harper says. “There are many ways you can see yourself in the institution, but one of the ways that's most pronounced is in the curriculum."

For many campuses, this is done by creating women and gender or ethnic studies departments with academic programs like African American history, Latinx history, Asian history and Native American history. These allows students to study both their own backgrounds and those they don't share.

Other programs, however, may incorporate classes looking at how diversity issues intersect with a topic. For example, San Diego State added a new graduation requirement mandating all criminal justice students complete a course focused on race relations and policing.

“In the wake of George Floyd and so many other instances that happened throughout the summer, there was a desire to be responsive to what we're seeing across the country. Police officers are often engaged in policing in communities they don't come from and/or they have little understanding of," Dr. Wood says. “We believe it is critical that people who are going to engage Black communities in positions of authority—particularly those as police officers—should do so from a viewpoint that values their lives."

This is part of the impetus for the university's adoption of the 21st Century Policing Report as a guide for campus police departments. The report, prepared under the aegis of the Obama administration, proposed six principles as a guide for public safety organizations across the U.S. At the CSU, university police are using the principles to engage positively with students, faculty, staff, visitors and community members; build and sustain trust; and develop diverse teams that work transparently and respectfully through education and training.

Cal State San Bernardino lecturer Makiko Amaya in front of her class.

Focus on Faculty

For universities, it is equally important to ensure the diversity of its staff and faculty reflect the composition of its student body.

“There is research that demonstrates when you are grappling with challenging issues, having a diverse set of opinions—as opposed to a homogenous one—will actually result in a better product, a better outcome," says Linda Hoos, Systemwide Title IX Officer at the CSU Office of the Chancellor. “I think especially in academia, what we're trying to do is provide people with an education that isn't monolithic. We want people to understand there are different perspectives, there are different sides, there are different life experiences."

Anti-bias and microaggression trainings are becoming a larger part of this effort, including a CSU/University of California collaboration called Moving Beyond Bias, which helps campuses host sessions in better understanding and overcoming unconscious bias.

“There's a focus on how do we build a better future by training the future leaders and citizens of our world through the educational experience, as well as how do we make sure we do better as leaders of higher education institutions so we start making decisions in a way that's much more inclusive and generates those equitable outcomes," Dr. Hong says.

San José State University also introduced research-informed evaluation practices on equity and bias in its inaugural mandatory Retention, Tenure and Promotion Committee training—in addition to employing similar practices in search committee trainings—in its efforts to boost faculty diversity in recruitment and retention, explains Kathleen Wong(Lau), Ph.D., San José State's chief diversity officer.

Along with training, campuses are implementing policies to diversify faculty and staff, like at San Diego State, where inclusion representatives sit on search committees and which hired a director of inclusive recruitment—among other actions.

“It fosters a greater environmental belonging; being able to see someone in the classroom, in the office who looks like you, comes from the same community, is important," Wood says. “Faculty of color and staff of color oftentimes serve as visible role models, mentors and supporters to students from all backgrounds, but particularly our students from minoritized backgrounds."

Two women working on a laptop.

Culture Changers

Ultimately, the CSU's goal is not only to impact its campuses, but to change the culture around diversity and inclusion in its community.

“We need to give them some guidance, as well as have our students, our graduates, our alumni go out there and promote change," Dr. Wong(Lau) says. “We've got an obligation to the communities, as well as to the sector that surrounds any of our CSUs that our alumni go into."

San José State is known for sending its graduates into the Silicon Valley's tech industry—an industry that has had its own diversity challenges. After a group of six Latinx alumni shared with Wong(Lau) last year they were leaving their tech jobs because of the lack of diversity, she started work on a new initiative called Change the Ratio—which will launch in November 2020. It will allow individuals from the industry to co-enroll with SJSU students in a series of six workshops on workplace bias and earn a certificate.

“You need to do the technical stuff and provide all the support and the content knowledge, but you also have to do organizational change, culture change, and that's hard," Wong(Lau) says. “You do that by persuading, through narrative, through story, through compelling examples, through packaging the expectations you feel like people should meet on their end. We want to be able to do a warm handoff of our graduates into the tech sector and feel like they're going to thrive."

Learn more about diversity at the CSU.