CVV News-Posted: June 24, 2022
For the first time, Stanislaus State in collaboration with the California State University celebrated and recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday.
Posters in the Warrior Cross Cultural Center commemorating the promise of the historical event of June 19, 1865, were on display for a week leading up to the Monday, June 20, holiday, when a campus forum led by Disability Resource Director Marvin Williams, some 30 students, faculty, staff and administrators heard what it means to be Black at Stan State and discussed ways to make the experience better.
The online forum was part of the California State University’s Acknowledges, Commits and Transforms (ACTs) Initiative, which was inspired by a CSU systemwide two-day biennial Juneteenth Symposium organized by leaders at CSU Dominguez Hills.
The CSU’s launch of the ACTs initiative is an acknowledgement it needs to do more to make its 23 campuses more welcoming for Black students.
Stan State took up the challenge, and current and former students spoke of the difficulties they experienced while attending the University, where so few people look like them and have shared experiences.
Without change, one of two things will continue to happen.
“Black students will make it through a semester or a year and they will leave the University; or they’ll stay and day in and day out face microaggressions and macroaggressions,” Williams said.
The conversation acknowledged there is much more work to be done to prepare an environment conducive to recruiting, embracing and retaining Black students. Stan State’s 2021 freshman class had only 14 Black students.
That number was reported by Brandon Price, associate vice president for student success, on behalf of Stan State’s African American Success Initiative, a group of faculty, staff and students researching what hinders Black student success.
Their surveys, though small sample sizes, indicate Black students have similar attitudes toward campus climate as the rest of the student body and they believe the administration is committed to equity and diversity. However, fewer Black students seem willing to engage with faculty, particularly after class.
The group plans to hold focus groups beginning in the fall to address ways to attract more Black students and improve their experience.
Bethany Saint-Smith, a current student who transferred to Stan State from Modesto Junior College in fall 2021, appreciates the outreach, but sees the hiring of more Black faculty and staff as key to change.
She found comfort at Stan State while attending New Student Orientation, when leaders of the Black Student Union approached her, and she connected with other Black students.
“The relationship portion is so important,” she said. “The amount of work our Black faculty members and staff have taken on to make Black students feel included, and the work they have done to be with us, and answer messages and emails and calls has been a huge undertaking. We need to hire people who are representative of the populations that do not get that attention or that effort.”
While more work is needed, Saint-Smith said Stan State is “on the right track.”
President Ellen Junn reiterated her commitment to improving access and success for Black students, faculty and staff, asking those participating with Stan State ACTs and the African American Success Initiative to bring proposals forward that she can present to her Cabinet to begin effecting true change.