Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro – March 18, 2021

Remarks by Dr. Joseph I. Castro
Campus Chief Diversity Officers Convening
Welcome Remarks (as prepared)
March 18, 2021

Thank you very much for that kind introduction, Tray, and for providing the opportunity to meet with all of you this afternoon.

During my time as president at Fresno State, I was privileged to work closely with Dr. Carolyn Coon and our President’s Council to advance equity, diversity and inclusion. I am so proud of the remarkable work they continue to do and it was a great honor to be a part of it. This is one of my life’s greatest professional passions, and I want each and every one of you to know how much I respect, admire and appreciate the expertise, compassion and dedication you bring to your work every day on behalf of our students, faculty and staff.

Inclusive excellence is one of our university’s core values, and as the largest, most diverse and most consequential four-year public university in the country, the CSU is proud to be one of our nation’s greatest drivers of socioeconomic ascent. It is our highest mission to afford students of all backgrounds, races, ethnicities, abilities, identities and orientations the opportunity to earn the lifelong benefits of a high-quality college degree.   

In many ways, it is you who make this possible by inviting all of us to view our mission through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion. By serving as catalysts for systemic change and by encouraging engagement and accountability among leadership, faculty, staff, students and alumni across our campus communities, you help us harness the full power of our 23 campuses to create the better world we envision.  

Amid a volatile climate of social unrest and racial division, you and your teams are advancing critical work to abolish injustice from our campuses. And by encouraging diversity of thought and discouraging marginalization, you are setting the stage for civil discourse and expanding the knowledge base and critical thinking skills that are essential to the climate on our campuses and to our students as they prepare to enter and enrich California’s diverse workforce.

And perhaps most important, in support of the CSU’s flagship student-success effort, Graduation Initiative 2025, your work is providing students of all backgrounds a vital sense of belonging and a strong network of support on our campuses while expanding the best practices that are essential to closing equity gaps and helping all students reach their full potential.

This work will forever be a priority of mine because of my own family’s lived experience.

I am the grandson of a Dreamer from Michoacán, Mexico, whose father – my great grandfather – had come to the United States almost a century ago to help build the railroad. My grandparents were farmworkers. Together with my single mother – a beautician – they raised me, working hard to give me the opportunities they didn’t have.
I was the first in my family to go to college, attending UC Berkeley as part of the Educational Opportunity Program, which recruited students from the Central Valley and from modest financial means.

I remember one of my earliest experiences as a freshman on the Berkeley campus. I was the only Latino in the classroom. And I distinctly remember when the syllabus came out with a list of required reading. I could hear my classmates excitedly saying to each other, “Oh, I’ve already read that book. That one, too.” I, on the other hand, didn’t recognize a single title on the list, partly because I came from a high school that had very few AP courses. It was clear to me from day one that I had ground to make up.

Fortunately, I had the academic support that allowed me to make up that ground. At the top of the list, I was able to meet and be mentored by faculty of color – there weren’t many, but I found them – including my Chicano History professor from that same freshman year. I had never met anyone like him. I was inspired, driven to learn everything I could from him. I stay in touch with him and many of these mentors to this day.

And this fall, I’ve seen history repeat itself with my own son, who is now in the fourth grade. Jess has the only male teacher of color at his entire school. And he has bonded with that man in a way I have never seen before. Jess is more intellectually curious and is so motivated to succeed, and he will never forget his fourth-grade teacher, I promise you that.

As we look to the future, we must continue to employ creative strategies to ensure that our diverse students see themselves in our faculty, staff and leadership; feel a sense of belonging and are seen, heard and valued in their campus surroundings.  

To that end, increasing faculty and staff diversity is one of my top priorities. While it is undeniable that one can be inspired by mentors from any background – that’s certainly been the case in my life – it remains extraordinarily important to me that our students are reflected by and connected with faculty and staff who really understand their lived experiences, because they’ve walked a similar path and they are uniquely able to inspire the very best in these talented students.

I have already started discussions with UC President Michael Drake to develop a pipeline program that encourages CSU graduates to enter doctoral programs at the UC and that inspires them to return to the CSU as faculty members. I believe the program shows great promise, but it will take focus, resources and teamwork to make it happen. I’ll need your help!

And next week, we will present to the Board of Trustees another strategy: a resolution that has been advanced by Student Trustee Maryana Khames.

The resolution calls for the establishment of a biennial symposium recognizing African American history and achievement and creating space to promote and sustain the CSU’s anti-racism work, in particular anti-Black racism efforts.

Building upon your longstanding efforts, the symposium will direct attention to the rich and enduring contributions of African American students, faculty, staff, administrators and alumni, and it will harness the very best ideas and actions from across our 23 campuses to eliminate equity gaps and better serve Black and other students of color.

As we look together for creative solutions such as these, please know that I am always available to you. I value and welcome your ideas and opinions. I want to hear what is working well. And, perhaps more important, I want to hear what we need to improve upon so that we can do more and better for our talented and diverse students.

Again, thank you for inviting me today. I look forward to our shared work, to future meetings and to continuing our conversation.