On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Thomas Parham and Saul Jiménez-Sandoval to discuss the importance of creating an accessible university, especially for underrepresented students, and providing pathways to community development.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:00:02):
Thomas and Saul, welcome to the Illumination Podcast. Thank you both so much for taking the time.
Thomas Parham (00:00:08):
Thanks for having us. Thank you. Glad to be here.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:00:12):
So did we know within the California State University system access and impact are two key pillars that hold the system up. It's a core focus of the work that you guys do. What is the black student crisis and how is it affecting the lives and the success of modern learners?
Thomas Parham (00:00:33):
So let me begin beyond the thanks for really having us and asking the question to say what a critical time this is to even interrogate that question. First of all, I should say that rather than frame it as a crisis, I think it is a concern because crisis to me as a psychologist, not just a president, implies that somehow there's an acute emergency and there is a sense of urgency to what we do. But I want to back up and remind, I think our listeners and viewers that the C SS U, the California State University system as the largest public university in this nation, has always been committed to trying to support the intellectual and personal growth and development of its students, be they white, black, blue, brown, or purple. They've always been committed to trying to do the best they can about trying to support the dreams and aspirations of particular cohorts, be they racial, ethnic, gender, et cetera, in the context of what they do.
But what happens every now and then is that we're able to do a periodic review, look at the data, and as people say, the data don't lie. What the data tells us is that there are certain cohorts that are not thriving the way in which we would like them to thrive. They're not achieving the level of result we'd like them to achieve. And in this case, what we know is that in particular for our black students, that the African-American community generally is falling short of the aspirational goals. I think that we on the campus and the system as a whole have for them. And so it is that piece that has now been highlighted and illuminated and allows us to focus in particular fashion on what we need to do to arrest the tide where we see the declining numbers of black students and the performance indicators that are suggesting that they aren't doing as well. But I don't want anybody to get the impression that somehow the California State University has not been committed to this whatever. We are simply part of that human condition where there's typically a gap between what we aspire to achieve and how that aspiration gets operationalized every day within the context of our work and this space about supporting black excellence and black students is where we need to make some significant progress. So what would you add to that?
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:03:06):
Yeah, I think what I would add is that for me, the urgency comes at a point in which I have learned and realized that black Americans have contributed to the ethos, the fundamental ethos of who we are as a nation. If we think about the contributions of black Americans and we think about what American represents, there is a fundamental contributions that black Americans have done to define the character of our nation and to really showcase the excellence of the nation worldwide in terms of music, politics, in terms of sports, in terms of the military, in every single facets, the sciences in every single facet we see not just minor contributions, but incredible fundamental contributions that make us the country that we are with. This comes the inherent responsibility to empower our black students to come to our universities, feel that they belong and they contribute to this growing development of this country that we have as the us. So that's what I would contribute to that.
Thomas Parham (00:04:21):
Right, and I don't want to leave the question without providing you with a little bit of specificity, which is I'm sure what you're looking for. So the urgency of the moment is really anchored in the fact that our students of African descent continue to be underrepresented in the domain of higher education. That's true. When we look at admission rates, they are still not populating university campuses in the ways in which they should given their percentage of the population. And once admitted into institutions, when we look at their retention, persistence and graduation rates and even thriving after degree completion, those numbers don't bode well and are consistently different than some of their other counterparts. And so what it reminds us is that because that is a population that needs some additional attention, that has really caught our attention and has created I think the sense of urgency that both our president, so Saul and myself are talking about.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:05:32):
Yeah, and I would also add to that, that we need to become intentional in every single level that my colleague Tom, as Parham just mentioned right now, I think Dr. Dr. Parham established the basics, right? Number one, how do we recruit, and I'll just give you a brief example of Fresno State. We have 1500 applications from black students at Fresno State. Out of those 1300 get accepted into Fresno State, sorry, 1200 get accepted into Fresno State. So 300 do not get accepted into Fresno State, 1200 do out of those 600, a whole 600 say to us, we will go to Fresno State, 600 students per year indicate that they want to come to Fresno State out of those 600, 150 show up in the fall. So what is happening between the moment in which they tell us I'm going to go to Fresno State and they show up? Where's our intentionality in terms of recruitment like Dr. Barham said on the one hand, retention, creating and fostering a sense of belonging within our campuses and then providing academic and cultural support and then at the end graduation, where is the plan for that? That's what this plan is all about in regards to our students.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:06:55):
This is where I start to find the conversation really fascinating. I feel through the two thousands, certainly there was kind of a buts in seats mandate. There was a real focus on access, there was a real focus on getting focus in the door, but what that looked like from place to place differed quite significantly. There wasn't the same focus necessarily on retention through a program and success as I think we have today. And unfortunately when we look at the attainment numbers biracial group, and this is data from Lumina's Stronger Nation report, we know that among Asians and Pacific Islanders, there's about a 65% completion rate. Among that cohort, there's about a 50% completion rate among Caucasian or white folks. We know that among black folks, there's about a 34% completion rate among that population, and then among Hispanic folks, it's about 27% or 28%. So we can see in the data the gap that exists from between folks from different demographic groups. I'm curious as to the role that the university and the university system need to play in creating an accessible university for folks from underserved communities and beyond that, what does it then take to create a university environment that fosters success among people that don't necessarily have folks in their community that have blazed a trail for them?
Thomas Parham (00:08:24):
So great question and thank you for that. I think contextually universities are those places, the institutions, the vehicles for really improving three things, excellence in education and research, access for the state citizenry and trying to make it as affordable as possible so that people can take a look at it. That's that three-legged stool that we talk about. So we've been in fact a vehicle for improving the educational access and outcomes for persons of African descent and others at every level of the academy. So we want to do that in student recruitment, faculty and staff, as well as even senior executives. We also share a commitment, I think, not only to enrolling students, but much like Saul was talking about a moment ago, our job is to listen to their voices and help to create the cultural comfort zones that are carved out in the midst of what times students perceive as these seeds of cultural sterility that happen in higher ed institutions around the nation.
The C S U was committed to wanting to create these cultural comfort zones that exist in the people they see in the classroom that look like them, that exist in the affinity centers that are there, that exist in the advising and support mechanisms that exist in the clubs and organizations they can support that exist in the whole ambiance of the educational experience that students can have on both an academic and a co-curricular way. So what role do we play at being able to do that as a system? It's being able to make sure those things are in place so that students have a critical mass, that they have an environment that reflects who they are, that they have academic instruction that is provided by people who look like them, that they have curriculum that speaks to their particular issues so that they can see themselves reflected in that and that they have an intellectual ambiance that is characterized by an ability to stimulate their personal and intellectual growth and development without subjecting them to some of what we call the microaggressions, micro assaults, micro invalidations that make the environments more toxic than they are healthy and supportive.
That students, I think do not learn best in our job is to try to address some of those issues.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:10:51):
And I would add to what Dr. Bahar just said right now is that the data that we have nowadays has the power to inform our next actions. We have never had this much data in our history of humanity. How are we using that data in an intentional manner in order to empower our communities, specifically in this case, our black community. That's one part. The other part about the environment that Dr. Ham mentioned as well is how do we message not within bubbles, not within just specialized spaces for our black students, but how do we message from the institution from the top to the middle to every single aspect of the facet of the institution? How do we message that the C S U is a welcoming fertile ground for the black excellence that will thrive and that will then transform communities throughout California and in the nation as well.
We need to message that in a pretty fundamental profound way and in terms of space. Space harbors belonging, and when space harbors belonging and you are authenticated for the gifts that you bring to the table, there's a journey of development that happens that ultimately ends with an ownership of the space. This is what I see with my black students at Fresno State. They come, they see themselves empowered and pretty soon they say, I belong here and I'm going to become this a teacher, an engineer, a physicist, whatever it is. And then after that, they realize by the time they're sophomores, juniors, they realize that they own Fresno State. So within this parameter, we need to message to our black students that they are critical to the future of our country. They're critical to the future of California specifically, and in doing so, they bring the best of themselves, they develop interprofessionals, and then what do they do? They go back and become the leaders that we all need in our communities as well.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:13:07):
Well, this is, I think the part of the conversation that really starts to where the rubber really hits the road for me because it starts to speak to the role that the university plays in community development, especially for public universities, that the role that the institution can play in driving socioeconomic growth and development for breaking cycles of poverty, for creating pathways to growth and development. I'm taking us off course a little bit here and I do apologize, but I'm curious as to some of the ways, some of the ideas that have been brought forward as to how the university can better situate itself within communities that may not see the university as a realistic option for them that may not recognize the university as being part of their community. What have you seen done? What are some of the ideas that you've come across to help address that level of town gown divide?
Thomas Parham (00:14:07):
So I'd say a few things I think are critical to that. We have an expression, I've been president here at Cal State University of Dominguez Hills for five years, and in my five years, even as we are an urban metropolitan university, I'm very proud of that. I've invited our folk to remember that there's a difference between being in the community and of the community. There are a lot of institutions that are in communities, but they put up borders and walls around it, and if they can gob up some more land to improve their infrastructure, they're good with it. But short of that, they keep walls around the perimeter so that community really doesn't have a relationship. I try to remind folks that at Dominguez Hills, we are not just in this community, but we are of the community. So whether you are a community entity, a nonprofit organization, you're a family who walks through the campus on a regular basis for the morning walk or elders or senior citizens who do that.
If you're legislators who hold town halls on the issues related to homelessness or gun violence. If you're community folk who are coming to participate in some of the co-curricular programming that exists on campus, all that is part and parcel of what it is that we do. But there has to also be, I think a level of reciprocal exchange so that we aren't simply exploding the talent and inviting the talent from the communities to come in, but the work we do has to be able to address some of the challenges and conditions that people have to address in the daily lives. And so that's where it makes a difference, where we have students out who are interning in medical centers and law offices, where we have programmatic initiatives that are addressing different challenges on sustainability or homelessness that people have to be able to navigate where we are improving the economic and social mobility of students and their families when they come through and successfully graduate.
Those are the ways in which we are not just in the community, but of the community. And that tends to endear communities, I think, to who we are in these spaces. And even as president Jim Sandoval and I talk about our own individual campuses, I think this is the mindset you can see reflected throughout the entire California State University system, even though we are in locations that are dramatically different from the most rural and up in the forest or by the sea to places that are right into the urban core of our cities in the state of California. But I think those are part and parcel of what it is. There's a difference between being in a community and of a community and we strive to be of the community,
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:17:01):
And I could not have said it better myself. I think it's spot on. At Fresno State, we are very much in the community and of the community, 80% of our students when they graduate, say in the region. So the impact of our institution is direct on the communities that it serves, and that's really fundamental to our role in the economy, in the society, in the culture, in the interpersonal relationships that we have with each other as a very diverse community. In Fresno, we're the ninth most diverse city in the country. Fresno is. So this is fundamental. The role of the institution is to lead and it's to lead in the education of history. The concept of black history is not in itself. It is American history, fundamentally speaking, in every facet, in every way of our development as a country. Black Americans have been there forging ahead in spite of overwhelming odds, incredible contribution. So I think the role of the institution is very clear to educate. It's to bring people together and to be like Dr. Barham said, to be of the community in a pretty fundamental way as well. I,
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:18:27):
I'll tell you, I mean, it's a pleasure sort of connecting with you guys and having this conversation just as three individuals. We're all seeing the video and listeners will just be listening to us, but the three people who are conducting this conversation right now are all visible minorities. We all come from backgrounds that are non-white, and I think we've all sort of gone through post-secondary experiences in places that could be considered sort of traditionally white or majority white institutions. But me, myself, I went to Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, which has, for anyone who's familiar with higher education in Canada, will know that the diversity issues that institution faced both Swell and Thomas attended uc institutions very, I think both uc, Irvine, if I'm not mistaken,
Thomas Parham (00:19:21):
We share that in common.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:19:24):
So the three of us, to a certain extent lived parts of what we're talking about here. I'm curious from where you sit as leaders, what are some of the strategic and operational challenges that can come about when trying to create a campus environment or just an institutional environment that's designed to support folks from underserved communities? I think we can look at it as individuals who've persevered through it. We look at it as people like me, myself as someone who observes the space, you guys as people who have led and continue to lead in the space space. I'm curious about some of the things that can stand in the way of doing the stuff we think makes sense.
Thomas Parham (00:20:08):
So let me try to approach the question another good one. So thank you for that by talking about both an internal and external dimension. Externally, I think it starts with the reputation of the institution itself, whether people believe that it is a viable asset that they want to take advantage of. It starts with people being able to see themselves reflected within the demography of the institution at every level from students, staff, faculty, and senior executives. It starts with the curriculum that is being offered and whether or not what we're offering is perceived by that community to say, yes, there's a functional utility to what I can learn in that institution and how I can apply it out here in whatever role that I want to play, whether it's a job, an internship, or raising a family. So it starts there. When you think about internally and you talk about really the obstacles for me, I think it is trying to help people become, when we're faced with challenges, like I say, the black student equity and elevating black excellence, the challenge comes in helping people to have a different vision of possibility, and I'm try to unpack that in a quick sec, but also being able to execute on those things that make the biggest difference.
So for example, I happened to have a campus that is 89% students of color and people go, woo, what an integrated campus. And when I first got here, had to interrogate the question about whether Dominguez Hills is actually a desegregated space versus a truly integrated one because our simple and simplistic notions of desegregation invite us to look at, well, if we're 5% of this and 10% of that and 15% of the other, we must be diverse. And demographics, do not define whether or not you are diverse or not. Diversity to me is a question, and the question is not simply what percentage of the population do you have in your students, faculty or staff, but rather do the policies and practices of your institution or agency change as a function of the changes in the demographics. So part of my invitation for my people internally to look at and what we've been able to commit ourselves to where the five years that I've been here is to unpack and look at that.
So when I put together and support a anti-racism task force, when people say, why do you need that? We already have students of color. It's because if you think about it and only demographics and don't understand that we have to be vulnerable to whether or not we have our dripping with those vestiges of racism or white supremacy that have infected our policies and practices. It doesn't matter how black or Latinx or Asian or Indian or whatever you have, well, how international you are. If your policies are still very Eurocentric and supremacist and racist in nature, the institution doesn't change or thrive. It's that kind of thing I think that we have to do on the internal side to be able to look at that. And those are some of the obstacles that we've been able to look at. Lastly, I'll say for me, beyond changing the reputation of the campus to the external community, which we've enhanced considerably both locally, regionally, and nationally, in fact all the way into the White House Center Department of Education, what I think is critical for us is internally, and this is the psychologist of me, so excuse me for being in that space, but my job has been to unlock what I call the shackles of conceptual incarceration that kept us locking the way things have always been, rather than dreaming about the way things might be with a little bit more intentionality.
And that's also what you see in the midst of this black Student success report and elevating black excellence work group initiative that we've stood up.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:24:40):
Yeah, that's incredibly well said. And as you can see, AMRI, I learned a lot from Dr. Parham throughout this process. I appreciate Thomas very, very much. I
Thomas Parham (00:24:51):
Learned it all from him.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:24:52):
He is a true philosopher and he's a true visionary, and I truly, truly appreciate him. Just a little note that when he was vice chancellor at Irvine, I was a student there. So part of my success of feeling a sense of belonging is thanks to the great incredible efforts that Dr. Barham did at Irvine as well. So it's an entire ecosystem that we're seeing here. I'm going to say that we are diverse by no efforts of our own In the C S U, we are diverse, not because we've tried to be diverse. We're diverse just because it happened, it just happened. At Fresno State, we are 85% people of color. So from there, then the challenge becomes equity. It really does become equity. What do we do with D W F classes in chemistry one A where we clearly see that 50 to 60% of our black students are failing chemistry one A or 40 or 45% of our students of Latinx and are failing chemistry one A compared to their white counterparts that are passing these classes at a much higher rate.
What do we do when we have that data? Do we just simply say chemistry stuff and therefore that's the end of that? No, we have to think of equity. We have to think of tools. We have to think of tutoring. We have to think of ways in which we can empower our students. Once a student passes that chemistry one A, the sky's the limit. They're focused on graduating and they're focused on their career moving forward. The challenge to me is also structure. The structure of the structure. It's always been like that, and therefore we're comfortable with the path and therefore we just keep moving on with it. The structure of the structure is not acceptable to me because we need to think of creative ways of belonging, of empowering our black students so that we can have it in every single facet of the university leadership.
We need to empower our faculty to see our students and say, there's a black student in my class. This black student brings a wealth of cultural contributions of amazing talent, and I know that with my support and my faith in that student, that student will get an incredible grade and then move on with a career in the field as well. We need to see the challenge and take on the challenge of visualizing more than anything, and I'll end with this visualizing each other as leaders, specifically as leaders. When we see our students, we need to see them as the future, as the fundamental necessary future leaders of the country needs to move forward.
Thomas Parham (00:27:51):
And even beyond, I think the leaders, I would echo everything so just said, but fundamentally, we need to understand who are these people that we have been blessed to teach and train? Yes,
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:28:03):
Thomas Parham (00:28:03):
It. Oh, I remind my faculty when they say who are the students? Circumstances are places people come from, but not who they are at the core of their being. Let me say that again. You may come from poverty, but your spirit can still be rich. You may come from a violent surrounding but still have a peaceful heart. You may come from circumstance where you were in schools and didn't perform well, but that has not diminished your intellectual and emotional capability to be able to navigate the pathway and productivity and success through this institution. So I remind them who are our students? Our students, much like Saul just said. So as I paraphrase him, we have each of our students, I believe, are seeds of divinely inspired possibility.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:28:50):
That's beautiful, Thomas,
Thomas Parham (00:28:51):
That when they are nurtured in a proper context can and will grow into the fullest expression of all they are supposed to become our campuses from Humboldt in the north and Chico to San Diego and San Marcos in the south, to the LA region, to the Bay area, to the Central Valley. All of our campuses, all 23 of us are the soil into which these divine seeds of possibility are placed, and our job is to water them with the drops of intellectual enrichment to nourish them with those values and socialize them much like you would miracle grow on a plant. It's to till the soil to take the weeds of social distraction out of their life so they don't have to worry about basic needs or housing or food or insecurity or mental health to take the weeds of social distraction of those places to help them focus and provide them with facilities.
And then we provide them with just enough sunlight of affirmation and just enough shader critiques so that when they get out of way, we grab 'em by the collar and say, straighten up and come. And then we just watch them grow into fullest expression of all their are supposed to come, which is one of the happiest days of the year when we watch them secure and be granted the degrees to which they've been recommended by their faculty at our commencement ceremonies. That's our job and our task and a noble one. It is, and that's the mission we're committed to in the California State University system. That's phenomenal, Thomas. That's beautiful.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:30:18):
Yeah, it's extremely well put. One thing I'm curious about is our publication, the Evolution. The podcast as well is really focused on highlighting parts of the campus that tend to not be in the spotlight, especially when it comes to serving underserved demographics. We talked to a lot of folks in the student affairs space, a lot of folks in the continuing ed space about the work that happens to extend access to the institution and create a welcoming environment within the institution that may not be delivered through the traditional structure of the academic divisions itself. I'm curious how we start to take those efforts from the periphery, how we take the d n a of these divisions that have operated often with minimal resources available to them often by sweat equity and start to make that culture more central to the culture of the institution itself. You mentioned earlier the reality of why students don't complete their credentials. We know only about 28% of students who leave an academic program do so because they weren't academically ready to succeed. For the most part, it's questions of belonging, it's questions of opportunity cost, it's questions of financial realities that will tend to lead to attrition. So how do we start to make that student centricity, that ethics of empathy, more of a central component of the institution itself, as opposed to sort of a driving force of departments that operate on the outside of the institution.
Thomas Parham (00:32:08):
Thomas, you want to go? I was waiting on you, but Sure. So what you argue for, well, two things I'll say because something you said Emirate struck me in that I don't know that students weren't ready to succeed. I would modify that narrative because my whole push, if you will over the last couple of years has been to redefine what excellence in education looks like. We spend too much time as educational institutions assessing whether students are meritorious enough to be admitted to the intellectual spaces that we now manage. What we don't ask enough is the question of not whether students are ready to be admitted, but rather whether we as institutions are ready to receive the talented and gifted students that we have. Because that would make us do an audit, not on the grades and test scores the students have, but rather do an audit on ourselves to find out whether or not we have the infrastructure and the climate and those things necessary to be able to support the aspirations of our student body.
Now, having said that, I'm a core academic by training, whether working in the Ivy League before the University of California and now in the Cal State University system, but academics is always going to be king and take a priority there. But what I'm true and clear about even as a core academic is that academic affairs and student affairs exert a profoundly reciprocal relationship to another so that you cannot have success in one without having success in the other. So we can't simply look at trying to fund or stand up programmatic initiatives in one area and think we can ignore the other and use it as we'll get to that if we can, or if we have some residual crumbs left, no, we've got to stand these up because they work hand in hand to be able to facilitate the success of our students. So part of that starts with a philosophy, and then it starts with making sure that we are aligning the resource allocations with that value system and set of priorities and say, here are the allocations we're prepared to provide in order to make sure that these support systems are in place so that students can maximize what it is that they're achieving in the classroom.
So it's about trying to provide that, and with Covid, for example, is a great example. We said Covid is here. Let's just pivot. Now, I don't know about Saul exactly because I don't know his statistics on this. He'll be able to share much better about what's happening in Fresno and Dominguez Hills. We said, pivot, let's just go online and we'll do it at home. 50% of my students didn't even have devices. My campus was not set up with the infrastructure necessary to be able to have the technological sophistication necessary to do that. Even if a student had one computer that mom and dad had to use to work, siblings had to use to go to school, they had to use to go to class. I'm not even sure the home had wifi signal enough to be able to do that because the students used to running down the Starbucks to do their work.
When Starbucks is now closed, what do we do? So we had to put in a whole of digital infrastructure to close that digital divide and then upgrade the campus in terms of our signaling and strength and wiring classrooms and smart classrooms, et cetera, that even allow faculty to deliver this instruction technologically and make sure we enhance the technological capability and competence of the faculty who were delivering instruction who had never delivered it online before. I mean, those are the kind of challenges that we had to do. So I give that as a quick example because even as we think academics may be king, if we don't stand up our digital infrastructure and sophistication, all that falls apart. Students can't access the dashboards, faculty can't communicate with students. None of that happens without the digital infrastructure. Technology is as important as student affairs, as is academic affairs, as are the business operations of what it is that we have going on all that the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone and they aller a profoundly reciprocal relationship on one another. So that success in one domain is contingent upon success in the others.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:36:47):
Yeah, that's beautiful. Again, Thomas, in my mind, I work with images a lot. My training is poetry and poetry begins to craft an image that ultimately gives you very concrete message on what the poet wants to convey. The images that we have in our minds have to be reevaluated. Who gets to become a leader? How do we perceive knowledge? In whom do we perceive knowledge and what is knowledge? These are all fundamental questions that Thomas and I have discussed in the past, and in doing so then we have to then see each other as a tapestry coming together as America coming together, as California coming together, unified in what this future looks like. I think for the longest time we have had the image of who gets to become a university president. For example, I get it a lot when people say to me, you look too young to be a university president, maybe more so before because now it's been three years. My age has beginning to show with the three years that I have. Right?
Thomas Parham (00:38:03):
I'll stop my hair even in that.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:38:05):
I'm going to get there, Thomas.
Thomas Parham (00:38:07):
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:38:10):
So how do we fundamentally change the images that we have of each other so that we can collectively move together as a university and say, my students, I love when Thomas speaks because he is a poet and a philosopher onto himself. My students come and they are divine seats of possibilities. That's beautiful beyond anything beautiful. So how do we convey that very concrete message that Thomas Dr. Parham just gave us right now into a cultural symbiotic relationship that permeates the entire institution so that when professors see the students, they see endless possibilities for the future. They don't see deficiencies so that when professors see each other, they see each other as partners, so that when administrators see staff or faculty or students, they see the impact that this institution is having in the region, in the state, in the nation, in the world. I think for me, it's the hierarchy of images that we have to grapple down and take down in a pretty significant way in order to define and redefine who we are as an American nation moving forward.
Thomas Parham (00:39:36):
And it's those images I think so that I think are symbols, they're symbols of possibility. That's exactly it. That Saul and I represent symbols of possibility for students who say, I could be that because I see them or our counterparts. I think we have to have a community that reinforces that culture in themselves. So for example, when I arrived, there's a saying they now have, and we actually have it posted in the library. If you walk into my library on campus and we're toros as a mascot, that's a Toro bull. The sign will say, good day, Toro citizen, I respect your humanity.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:40:20):
That's beautiful. I
Thomas Parham (00:40:21):
Bear witness to your success.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:40:23):
Thomas Parham (00:40:24):
So when I start convocation off every year since my first year, I said, this is going to be our new mantra. I want everybody to stand up and greet each other and they just turn and say, good day, Toro citizen, I respect your humanity. Imagine what that feels like if you are black or Latinx or Asian or Indian or white, if you are gay or lesbian or trans, if you are man or woman, if you are athlete or not, if you're just a club organization, if you have a physical challenge or disability or something, when someone says, I respect your humanity and I bear witness to your success, so everybody and I has an expectation that I expect you to succeed, and if you create an ambiance where people grieve each other, now there's a gap between the aspirational me that said, let's put this in place, and whether people use that every day, but we're getting better at that. But that's the kind of ways we create that level of ambiance. But that right piece of narrative is a symbol of possibility because we respect your humanity and we bear witness to your success, which is in the mantra that we use every day while we're on campus,
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:41:35):
On my computer, on my laptop, I have a saying by Thomas, actually by Dr. Bhe, trust is an internal virtue. Now I'm going to add divide seed of possibilities because this is really what it's about. It's about coming together and putting our best ideas forward in empowering our students for this lifelong journey of success that they will have.
Thomas Parham (00:42:04):
Yeah, we should in fact, Amerit really talk about the notion of trust too, because we've been talking about a lot about the institution, but not as much about the individual student themselves, and that trust variable is real important. What I said to folk, and I used to tell my patients when I was treating patients back then, that real trust is not an external circumstance. It's an internal virtue.
The question is not, can I trust you or how many hoops do I have to make you jump through in order for me to trust you? If real trust is not an external circumstance, but an internal virtue, the question students and their parents should be asking is not simply they ought to ask it, but not only can I trust you as an institution, the question they've got to interrogate is, can I trust myself enough to take a risk with you? And that's what we're really talking about. And so some of the ways in which we fall short of our aspiration, we stub our toe, we don't perform as well as we'd like. We aren't as intentional as we'd like to be, provide evidence of the structural defects in the fabric of our institutions and even our values and policies, but rather than critique us and say, I can't trust them, what we have to do is trust that we're going to try to do the best we can to stimulate your intellectual growth and creativity and nurture your dreams and aspirations, but also invite you to not simply make us jump through 50 hoops before you step on campus, but rather or in a class or take this particular course versus not, but rather trust yourself enough to take a risk with us knowing that we got you if somehow you happen to stumble or fall.
Trust is a issue we have to have with our students, particularly among our faculty and staff as we move through navigating and managing our institutions.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:44:04):
I totally agree with you, Thomas. I think it's that hierarchy and that symbol and that value that you and I have been speaking about. My mother, when she was alive, she would say to me, trust is like a plant. It needs constant watering and needs intentional care. You don't just leave a plan out there and then you expect it to thrive and bear fruit and whatever. It has to be intentional. And from our side, from the C S U, we are being very intentional about what will it take for our 23 universities to be like Dr. Parham said before, to be these fertile grounds in which these divine seats of possibilities will come possi and then will germinate, and then we'll grow and then bear fruit. For the rest of us, it is for the rest of us, it is their responsibility, of course, to become professionals, but at the end, they benefit us directly as well within the set of California and beyond as well.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:45:08):
Absolutely, and I mean, I think we could fill a full hour talking about thinking about education as a public good versus a private good. We won't go too far down that rabbit hole, but the point is well taken that we have a responsibility to the learner. The learner has a responsibility to the community and the community as a responsibility to both. It's kind of a fascinating symbiosis to think about. I am curious, obviously we've connected talking sort of around the edges of some of the work that's happening around the C S U to create an equitable and accessible and a success oriented and environment for black learners and frankly for learners from any underserved community. The C S U released a report in June of 2023, advancing black student success and elevating black excellence in the C S U A call to action. Within the report, there are 13 recommendations on different ways that the system and institutions within the system can work to address some of the gaps that we have been talking about. I'm curious, as you guys reflect on the report, and for listeners by the way, I just titled it, but we'll also provide a link so that you can read and peruse the report yourself. Were there any findings, were there any outcomes? Were there any statistics within the report that have really stuck with you? Anything that continues to percolate in your mind as you reflect back on that particular publication?
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:46:38):
Yeah, in my mind really, really sticks with me. I get emotional are the voices from our black students, our black staff, and our black faculty. There have been surveys and then surveys give you back basic numbers, graduation rates, sense of belonging, et cetera, et cetera. And when you look at the numbers, they do hurt in a pretty profound way. But when you have small focus groups of 20 to 25 people, when you have a student come to you and say, this has been my experience and I have suffered through these situations, and I have gone through these very profound, hurtful, painful circumstances, it becomes real. The numbers are not just numbers. The numbers are real people with families and with dreams and with incredible gifts and talents that are ready to give to the rest of us. So what stays in me is my deep rooted responsibility to make it right and to really showcase from my office of the President down to every single office at Fresno State that we are this fertile ground for these divine seats of possibilities.
On a very personal level, it resonates in me in a very painful way what we have to do, the urgency that we have to do for the sake of our students and for the sake of our communities as well in general. Aside from that, I'm also taking away the structure of the structure. We need to grapple with it in a pretty fundamental way. The very first thing that happens when somebody presents 13, and the number 13 is extremely important because it goes back to the 13th Amendment when somebody presents a comprehensive basic, because this is basic, comprehensive, basic path. The first thing to say is, what are the obstacles? Where's the money? Where's the resources? Where's this? Who's going to build it? How am I going to do it? Instead of saying, this is a tremendous path, this is a tremendous plan, a tremendous area of possibilities for all of our 23 campuses. So these two areas for me are the driving force behind what I'm going to do with the 13 proposals that we have on the table.
Thomas Parham (00:49:30):
Yeah, I would add to what my colleague has said that it was a pleasure, by the way, to work with President Jimenez Sandoval,
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:49:40):
Like we Thomas,
Thomas Parham (00:49:41):
Oh, chair this, along with our colleagues in the chancellor's office and really 12 other academicians and provosts and student affairs, VPs and staff and student around this particular work group that Chancellor Kester stood up. So we have to give credit really to her recall, Amer that this particular work group came out of the 2022 Juneteenth Symposium and the last piece that Dominguez Hills happened to be honored to host. And as we stood up Juneteenth and listening to the voices of Everyday people, what we ended that symposium on was a notion of would takeoff off of Dr. King's work in 1967, the book about where do we go from here? That was the challenge. And Chancellor Kesser really took that seriously as we stood up, I think these recommendations. But what I argued, I think to the group and would argue to your listeners is, and this is where I feel most hopeful, what was most impactful is how bold we stepped out to really challenge ourselves as a C S U system to say that we want to abandon the romantic illusion that there is such a thing as black equity within the C S U, because right now we're falling short of that aspiration.
We also said, and you can see this in the opening letter, that we want to create a divine dissatisfaction with the way things are now in favor of the way things might be with just a little bit more intentionality. So what stood out for me, I think, is how bold we decided to be in really stepping out on those particular spaces and arguing that this would be a litmus test for the system for both the trustees, the state legislature, our presidents, as well as our campuses, to decide how committed they were to black student success and elevating black excellence so that we're not interested. It's all said in the eight out of 10 reasons why this can't be done because it's not properly resourced. Whatever we're trying to find, the two out of 10 why can, what also stood out to me in addition to the data, which I'll get to in a second, is the voices of everyday people.
What I argued with the committee and the committee agreed is that we cannot develop systematic and programmatic interventions to support black success for students, faculty, or senior administration in absence of consultation with the people that the interventions are designed to serve. So we put together this series of focus groups just for students, just for staff and just for faculty and listening to them. We heard both the sugar and the sour. We heard people say, this has really transformed my life, and here's what y'all need to do more of bravo. And then we heard the pain, oh, talked about that, said, this is where we're falling short on what we need to do differently. And out of those things came the crafting of those 13 recommendations. So I think the 13 is significant, as Saul has already commented on. What was also an important point for me was the data.
Because what the data really showed is how the pipeline that exists right now is leaking. Lemme say that again. The pipeline is leaking. And so if we look at the number of people who start out graduating high school, the number from there who are eighth and G eligible, the number from there who ultimately make application to the C S U, the number who get admitted, the number who ultimately come, and the number who ultimately enroll, and then the number we graduate, the pipeline goes all the way down and the numbers get smaller and smaller. So when you talk about your first question was about crisis, it's a sense of urgency in the moment to say, how can we intervene at every level of this pipeline, including going back and trying to do some work in middle schools before they even get to high school and be considered to apply, to create a greater share of people who are then eligible and recognize that they have a place to be able to nurture their intellectual gifts in the C S U.
So that data was, I think, really pronounced as well. And then lastly, what was really gratifying for me and consequential is that in the midst of this budget climate where the state is struggling in the way that it is, I think with this budget that the system found some dollars to be able to stand up our initial efforts to do that rather than say, we'll put that on the back burner. So it told us really how important this is to the entire system, and it isn't enough for permanent money, but the temporary money I think is sufficient for us to get started and we will use that. But those were, I think, some of the important elements of that. Lastly, I'll say for me on that question that the great out Germanian psychiatrist, Fran Fanon always argued that each generation out of relative obscurity must reach out and seek to fulfill its legacy or betrayed.
What Saul and I are really talking to you about as presidents and leaders of these institutions, but as members of the C SS U, which is the largest public university in the entire nation, is that we owe a debt because our ability to highlight and to do the work as presidents or to highlight whatever ability we may have was made possible by some people who struggled long and hard before we arrived at this space and time. So we owe a debt, and our job as we go and get up every morning and work on behalf of our students and our campuses and go to bed every night is to decide whether we have fulfilled or betrayed the legacy we've been blessed to inherit. And what this report should tell this system, the state and indeed the nation, is that we are committed to fulfilling rather than betraying that legacy with respect to our students of African descent and our faculty and staff as well.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:56:13):
Well said Thomas. Well said. I would just add that I want to thank Dr. Thomas Barham for everything he teaches. Everyone. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to collaborate with him. Thank of course, the chancellor, Jolene Kester, and then of course Sylvia Alva was fundamental to our group as well, as well as DSI Perez and Lori Putnam, who was the writing power Phenomen.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:56:45):
No, small, huge,
Thomas Parham (00:56:47):
No particularly, I mean, the courage of Chancellor Kessler was phenomenal, and I think working with both Sylvia and Saul and myself, but really the work by DSI Perez in particular, and Laurie Putnam in support of that, they deserve your person's praise for the work that we do. But I think that the work is critical. I think it's an excellent document and piece of work, but to me, a document is, but a document, if we can't make it live and breathe and it lives and breathes both in the system as well as on our individual campuses to the degree that we can operationalize everything that is within the document and get a handle on some of the recommendations and make some consistent and sustained progress on each one of those 13 recommendations.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:57:34):
And it's a point of departure. It's an initial point,
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:57:40):
Absolutely. Gentlemen, it's been, I can't put into words just a fascinating conversation, a fantastic experience. I'm so grateful for you both taking the time out to chat a little bit about your experience, your perspective, your insights on the topic. To move to a slightly lighter area to close this out, which is if someone was to find themselves in either of your cities, Dominguez Hill and Fresno, respectively, where do they need to go for dinner?
Thomas Parham (00:58:16):
So I'm a person who likes food. My favorite restaurant is probably Roy's. So I go to Roy's when I'm in Hawaii, I try to go to Roy's in Southern California. So if I'm in Orange County or LA County where I traverse the landscape of both, I'm at Roy's restaurant, but I'm also a person who loves the view and just the aesthetic ambiance of just the beauty of nature. So one of the best views in Los Angeles is to go up to Yama, she's restaurant and the Hollywood Hills, and take a look at that 180 degree view, the Los Angeles landscape, and just sit among the ambiance of our historic Japanese brothers and sisters in that particular venue, and just dine to your heart's contempt on the culinary delights that they have there, but also enjoy the view of Los Angeles and Southern California.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (00:59:15):
So I would say that I have two. One is Thai country. I love Thai food, and Fresno is home to a large Southeast Asian population. So we have some of the best Thai food around. So Thai country is number one, and there I have certain dishes that I like to order. And then the second one would be Mexican food, but it would be Oaxacan food specifically. And there's a restaurant called Oaxaca Restaurant that I truly love. So those are my two.
Amrit Ahluwalia (00:59:46):
That's fantastic, and I always liked the recommendations, so thank you very much, Jon. I'll tell you, it really has been a pleasure. Guys, sincerely, thank you for your time and for the work you're putting in on this. And again, for any listeners, we'll make sure that you have access to the report so you can easily find it and access it. And please do stay in touch as you continue to pursue these goals, these objectives as you continue to work to create that equitable environment. It's been a pleasure.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (01:00:13):
Thank you. We appreciate
Thomas Parham (01:00:14):
It. Thank you emit for inviting us to be a part of this podcast with evolution and continued success to you. And hopefully your listeners will think about, right, that there is a place for them within the California State University, that we are accessible, that we are affordable, that we deliver on what we promised, and that we in fact can improve and increase the social and economic mobility of the folk who come. So come on, give us a chance, take a risk on us, and I think you'll be delighted at what you find.
Saul Jiménez-Sandoval (01:00:49):
Thank you, Amit. Thank you, Thomas.