Cal State Fullerton president invokes university legacy against hate speech

Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García welcomed the campus community to the new academic year on Monday by invoking the spirit of the university’s founders – who reached higher in the face of adversity – to guide the campus through today’s uncertain political times, including speaking out against hate speech.

At a convocation ceremony in the campus’s Meng Concert Hall, García said the vision of those scrappy early Titans, who saw a transformative institution rising out of acres of orange groves, can be seen today in the many achievements the school has racked up in its 60 years.

“This spirit of confidence and the ability to not only envision success in the face of adversity but also the desire to achieve it has always been the way Titans teach, conduct research, collaborate and perhaps more important, evolve,” García told a full auditorium.

That evolution into large university with a diverse student body has brought with it a need to walk a fine line between championing free speech and respecting equity and inclusion, she said, touching on the violence in Charlottesville, Va., two days earlier.

Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García speaks to a full auditorium at convocation Monday, Aug. 14, on campus. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)
Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García speaks to a full auditorium at convocation Monday, Aug. 14, on campus. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

García opened with an anecdote about CSUF’s first president, William B. Langsdorf, keeping a coiled rope under his desk to be able to rappel out of the condemned building at Fullerton High School that was the college’s first home.

She went on to describe Jim Young, founding chair of the theater department, putting on productions in parking lots with props pilfered from front yards on trash day. She described Betsy Gibbs, the first director of the children’s center, who started with five boxes of supplies and 45 parents on a waiting list.

“She encouraged parents to reach their dreams of a college degree while inspiring their children to follow in their footsteps.”

García lauded Jewel Plummer Cobb, the granddaughter of a freed slave who had been banned from living in her college’s dormitories and went on to be president of a university with a dorm named in her honor. And she praised her predecessor, Milton Gordon, who was forced to sit in segregated classrooms at Xavier University before propelling CSUF into the national spotlight for providing equitable pathways to higher education for all students.

Cobb and Gordon, who both died this year, “understood the transformative power of higher education and wielded it in ways that cleared a path to those who aspire to follow in their footsteps,” García said. “I am one of those people.”

Today, she said, we see their spirit. Their vision is realized in such successes as the Guardian Scholars  program, started when 2.5 percent of foster youth graduated from college. CSUF’s program had a 97 percent graduation rate for 2017 graduates.

Garcia particularly saluted the progress the university has made in boosting diversity, while acknowledging that that achievement has brought a risk and a responsibility that grow daily in today’s world.

In the past 60 years, she noted, California has gone from more than 90 percent Caucasian to being the first state in the continental United States in which ethnic minorities are a majority.

“Our success in adapting to this change makes us both a national model for equity and inclusion and in some ways a target for those who have recently been emboldened to lash out against it in ways we haven’t seen since the civil rights era,” Garcia said, mentioning the deadly protests in Charlottesville.

She related her distress that a neighbor had put up a Confederate flag whose shadow stretches over the yard of her house, which hosts university events, including for new students. She stressed that she believes in her neighbor’s right to fly the flag and that CSUF must allow controversial voices from all sides of every argument to speak on campus. But, she added, educators and Americans must walk a fine line between First Amendment rights and hate speech – upholding the Constitution while protecting those hurt by such words and actions.

“In the case of the flag looming over my home, I had my work cut out for me,” she said. As she pondered what to do, she recalled the words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

So she began each event in her home with a welcome speech saying CSUF is the antithesis of everything that flag stands for and is a welcoming environment committed to students’ success. That includes such things as printing information on financial aid in Spanish.

“All Titans, including Caucasian men, are embedded in our definition of diversity,” she said in her convocation speech, adding that everyone deserves a voice in the civil discourse critical to the transformative experience of higher education.

“And that is regardless of where they’re from, how they got here, who they love, what gender they identify with, how much money they have in the bank or what god they pray to,” she said. “We all, all have that voice. And I believe now more than ever it is a betrayal to silence it, particularly for those who might be frightened and scared in this political climate.”

García bemoaned that leaders of some other universities don’t speak out about vitriol on their campuses, saying they are worried it will upset donors and other constituencies. But she said when DACA students are threatened with deportation, Muslim students are subjected to a travel ban, the legitimacy of Black Lives Matter is questioned or LGBT students fear losing their rights, “we are obligated to speak out” – not just on moral grounds but because it is written into the university’s mission statement.

Controversial speakers will visit campus, she said, and the university will work to ensure those visits remain peaceful by role-modeling positive behavior and supporting community members with opposing views.

Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García cheers with faculty members who sang at the end of the convocation ceremony Monday, Aug. 14, on campus. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)
Cal State Fullerton President Mildred García cheers with faculty members who sang at the end of the convocation ceremony Monday, Aug. 14, on campus. (Photo courtesy of Cal State Fullerton)

Looking ahead, García mentioned the push to improve four-year graduation rates after meeting or exceeding systemwide goals on six-year graduation rates with 10 years to spare.

“We will improve four-year graduation rates, not by sacrificing our rigorous academic standards but by elevating them and teaching students how to reach them,” she said. “And not by pushing students who truly need six years to graduate but by seeking out and supporting those who truly have the time and means to graduate in four years.”

As an example, the school’s Student Success Teams recently identified 838 students on track to graduate in 4 ½ years, nearly half of whom accepted completion grants for summer session that position them to graduate in four years.

The ceremony ended with faculty and staff members popping up in the audience to sing a Cal State Fullerton version of the opening song from the musical “Hamilton,” promising “The world’s going to know our name.”

“We Are Cal State Fullerton”

(Original lyrics by Erin McNally)

How does a humble state school built on big dreams for a college,
Dropped in the middle of the perfect
Spot in Orange County by a freeway with a goal for education
In 60 years be first tier in the nation

The forty thousand students within our foster
Get a lot farther cuz WE work a lot harder
And we are a lot smarter
And sometimes we feel like a martyr
But today, we celebrate with our peers and partners

When I walk ’cross the campus I think “This place is insane, man!”
How do students navigate with phones up to their face, man?!
But all around you is diversity acclaimed!
And the world’s gonna know our name! What our name, man?

We are Cal State Fullerton
We’re working here at Cal State Fullerton
And there’s a million things we haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait

When I leave for my commute, on my route down State College
To Nutwood Avenue when will all of this construction be
Through? This traffic makes me sick. I’m done with it.

The parking structure’s big but the spaces go quick

Oh God, I have so much left to do
My syllabus is fine
But shouldn’t I add more guest lectures
To my class outline
Gotta schedule office hours, give my welcome speech a tweak
Cuz the students will arrive in one more week

The students arrive in one more week/Just you wait
The students arrive in one more week/Just you wait
The students arrive in one more week
Let’s reach higher!
Just you wait!

Here at Cal State Fullerton/Here at Cal State Fullerton
Titanium is here for you/University Portal, too
But if you go to Starbucks
Better plan to wait in line! Oh!/Better plan to wait in line! Oh!
Here at Cal State Fullerton/Here at Cal State Fullerton
We’re a leading CSU!/We have Titan Pride, we do!
Diversity is our aim
Tusks up when we’re at the game
We all reach higher every day! Oh!/We all reach higher every day! Oh!

Our diamond anniversary, 60 years to present/Just you wait!
Let’s help our students grow from now until commencement/Just you wait!

FACULTY:
We will teach to them

ADMINISTRATORS:
Me? I’ll plan for them

ANYONE WHO HIRES INTERNS/WORK STUDY:
Me? I’ll hire them

EVERYONE ELSE
Me? I’ll help them

PRESIDENT GARCIA:
And me? I’m the President who’ll lead ’em.

ALL:
There’s a million things we haven’t done. But just you wait!

PRESIDENT GARCIA:
Who are we, friends?!

ALL
We are Cal State Fullerton!

 

 

 

 

 

 

List of achievements

New challenges. Grad rates.

http://www.ocregister.com/feed/

Powered by WPeMatico