Remarks by Dr. Jolene Koester - June 15, 2022

Juneteenth Symposium, June 15, 2022
Interim Chancellor Jolene Koester
Brief Welcome Remarks (as prepared)

Thank you, Dr. Franklin, for that kind introduction and for all that you and Judith Millsap have done to bring this event to life. Dr. Thomas Parham and your team at CSU Dominguez Hills, you have my deepest gratitude and admiration for hosting this momentous occasion in such grand fashion.

And thank you, Janeice, for that absolutely beautiful rendition of the Black National Anthem. You are a true talent and an inspired choice to lead off the California State University's inaugural Juneteenth Symposium.

My appreciation also goes out to all of you joining us in person in beautiful Los Angeles, and to those tuning in via livestream from across our great state. We are thrilled to have contingents here from every one of the CSU's 23 universities, from Cal Poly Humboldt in the north to San Diego State in the south, and I hear there are quite a few viewing parties underway! Thanks to all of you for helping to make this first-ever event a success.

It is a privilege and an honor to be here with all of you, “facing the rising sun of our new day begun."

Like Juneteenth itself, this event was a long time coming. Of course, many of the universities across the CSU system have celebrated Juneteenth for years, with performances, displays and events recognizing the rich history and achievements of our Black and African American students, faculty and staff. Through our colleges of African and ethnic studies, through courses and seminars and panel discussions, our campuses have enlightened new generations and carried forward the legacies of those who helped lay the path toward opportunity, justice and equality.

But never before have we linked arms at the system level to evoke systemic change and to explore ways to extend that path forward.

Of course, we have much to make us proud. Through our Super Sunday initiative, more than 100 Black faith-based partners across our state help us provide year-round outreach and college readiness activities, sharing the Cal State story of access and opportunity. The CSU is home to more than 19,000 students who identify as Black or African American, and they are supported by vibrant resource centers, Black Student Unions, activities and events. Thanks to the work of many – with a special nod of appreciation to then-Assembly Member and now Secretary of State Dr. Shirley Weber for her leadership – the CSU instituted a new ethnic studies general education requirement last fall. It's one that will equip all CSU graduates with skills and knowledge to think more critically about, and perhaps take steps toward dismantling inequalities and injustice. And, importantly, our systemwide graduati​on rates are at all-time highs for students from every background.

Indeed, these are points of pride, and well-earned. But this is no time for confetti, no time for the CSU to pat ourselves on the back, and certainly no time for complacency. Not when bias and brutality continue to be endemic. When voting rights are under a renewed attack in so many regions of our nation. When mass incarceration so heartbreakingly and disproportionately plagues our cities. Or when persistent inequities exist in higher education.

But we can't simply point at societal ills. We must pause and reflect and take an honest and clear-eyed look at ourselves. Is the CSU where we need to be? Are we doing all we can to reach out to Black and African communities, providing authentic access to our campuses? Are we closing equity gaps? Is the Black and African American community not only represented but thriving, in the seats and at the head of our classrooms and laboratories, in the STEM fields and other industries of the future, and in our administrative offices. And, even broader but by extension, in health outcomes, home ownership, financial security and investment, entrepreneurship and corporate leadership, at the ballot box and in governance of our communities, state and nation?

The painfully obvious answer is, “no."

So we must ask ourselves the next question, the BIG question: “What are we going to do about it?"

That, my friends, is why we are here.

As the largest, most diverse and most transformative public four-year university in the nation, together we can – and we must – summon the full power of education to ensure that every member of the Black and African American community has every opportunity to live their dreams, and contribute fully to – and prosper fully in – the great nation we know we can one day achieve. And we must start by ensuring that every Cal State campus is a place of growth, support and belonging, a place that feels as natural as home. As Janeice sang so beautifully for us, “Let us march on till victory is won."

Over the next two days, I encourage you to listen and learn, to share candidly and think creatively, to seek out sparks of inspiration and seeds of change, to connect with allies and authentically listen to those with alternate views, and most important, to take what you've gained back to your campus and work to widen our circle of hearts and hands. I applaud our campuses who this week have begun dialogues and efforts to Acknowledge, Commit and Transform – to ACT. And I look forward to all we can accomplish by supporting and growing our ACT initiative in the years ahead.

I mentioned earlier, this symposium was a long time coming. But I believe in my heart it is the start of something big, and I thank you for being a part of it.

It is now my pleasure to introduce Mr. Obioha Ogbonna,  president of Associated Students Incorporated at our host campus, CSU Dominguez Hills, to offer his own words of welcome. Obioha?