Students and faculty supporting diversity

CHANGE AGENTS 

Meet the doers. Those at SDSU who are doing the hard work to bring about positive community change on and off campus. They are creating opportunities for more voices to be heard. Launching initiatives to help improve lives. And working to diversify the workforce. They are living the strategic plan priorities of Equity and Inclusion in All We Do and We are SDSU, taking responsible action with all communities in mind — and inspiring others to do the same.

January 22, 2021


Natalie King-Shaw
Natalie King-Shaw (Photograph by Sandy Huffaker.)

NATALIE KING-SHAW

Sophomore psychology major who started the Black Lives Matter All the Time PhotoVoice project 

As systemic racism became increasingly visible last summer, I became increasingly restless searching for ways to be active in the social justice movement while socially distancing. In a moment of fate, I was invited to a virtual PhotoVoice exhibit highlighting the experiences of mothers of children with medical complexities, and it inspired me to create a similar project to share and validate Black stories. 

I proposed my idea to the researcher for the exhibit, Melanie Sonsteng-Person, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleague Dominique Mikell, also a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA. Then I immediately shared my vision with my older sister, Samantha, who is a senior majoring in Women’s Studies at Washington State University. Since we were young, Samantha and I have had fascinating conversations about identity, and how its different aspects have shaped our experiences. Our conversations have allowed me to understand the multitude of Blackness that is often overlooked, and the experiences that are often invalidated. Together, we started to build our research team, and the Black Lives Matter All the Time project was born. 

Our team is composed of six SDSU and WSU undergraduates, working alongside our UCLA colleagues. Since September, we have met weekly to discuss photos and experiences guided by five themes we encounter in our daily lives: identity, community, oppression, wellness, and resistance. Using our common focus to highlight the multidimensional experiences of Black students attending predominantly white institutions, we prepared and presented a virtual photo exhibit in November. Going forward, we aim to continue to use our voices to create recommendations for both SDSU and WSU to better support and allow Black students to thrive.  

In a system that profits off of our silence, revolution is dependent on our voices. This project has shown me that in validating our voices and stories, we create spaces with a revolutionary capacity for healing, and a revolutionary vision for the future.

JACOB ALVARADO WAIPUK

Tribal liaison, assistant professor of American Indian Studies and Ph.D. candidate

Howka! I am IPAI Kumeyaay from the village of Ahmukatlatl, known as San Pasqual Reservation. I came to SDSU straight from the rez and graduated in 2014. As a student, I noticed there was a lot of work to be done on our campus to be more inclusive to our Indigenous population because at the time we were nearly invisible on campus. So I was motivated to start teaching here in 2018 and to become the tribal liaison in 2020.

In my role, I build relationships with local tribes, American Indian and Indigenous populations and create pathways for Indigenous students to succeed in higher education. I want all our American Indian, Indigenous students to feel welcomed and at home when they step foot on our campus.

Since being here we have passed a few resolutions to help accomplish that goal. These include raising the Kumeyaay Nations flag on campus forever; including SDSU’s Land Acknowledgement on our syllabi on our San Diego and Imperial Valley campuses and opening our new Wa Hahme Native Resource Center.

We have also created a Kumeyaay Committee to guide the creation of the Kumeyaay Mural and Sculpture. I am very excited about this, and so are our elders. This project involves the entire Kumeyaay Nation, and whatever we create will be here forever. Anyone who walks on our campus should know the land they step upon is the land of the Kumeyaay Nation.

To honor our people now, is to honor all the hardship and atrocities that we have gone through. We must not be forgotten — our legacy, history and stories must be remembered and told from our perspective. We’re the prayers of our ancestors, answered, and I carry them very close to my heart and I know this is what they wanted me to do.

Eyay e’Hunn. (My heart is good.)


Jacob Alvarado Waipuk
Jacob Alvarado Waipuk (Photograph by Scott Hargrove.)

Jess Whatcott
Jess Whatcott (Photograph by Sandy Huffaker.)

JESS WHATCOTT

Assistant professor of women’s studies, increasing inclusivity for trans and non-binary students

“Service to others less fortunate than yourself” was an important message I heard in my family and church growing up. Social justice was always a part of who I am, and the community I built became part of my chosen family. 

Before I became a professor, I had another life as a community organizer. I organized in solidarity with people in California prisons and I helped to build community responses to violence that don’t rely on bars and cages. My involvement in social movements for justice was an education all on its own, intertwined with the education I received in school. 

I am now working to pass on the knowledge to others. This starts in my classroom and goes beyond. I recently collaborated with Anne Guanciale and Wesley Palau from the Pride Center, and colleagues Catherine Clune-Taylor and Amira Jarmakani to design a training for faculty about how to create a welcoming and inclusive space for trans and non-binary students. I also convened a working group in my Department of Women’s Studies on racial justice and community engaged pedagogy. In pursuit of justice and liberation, we share resources and deepen our skills to address anti-Black racism in our curriculum and in the classroom. 

I use my teaching skills to return to the community to offer popular political education. I participate in Free Them All San Diego, a coalition that formed early in the pandemic to advocate for releasing migrants from detention centers.  

There are hundreds of ways to be a part of movements for change. We need all kinds: dreamers and artists, teachers and people willing to learn, organizers and people willing to show up in the streets, healers and parents. It doesn’t matter how you show up — it just matters that you do.

PAIGE HERNANDEZ

CIR Director of student retention and success, community advocate

At the Center for Intercultural Relations, we focus on academic support, retention and basic needs support for historically marginalized students. So my role is to connect students with resources for their success. I got into this work while I was getting my master’s in postsecondary educational leadership and student affairs at SDSU. I always knew that I wanted to be in some sort of helping profession. 

My job at SDSU and the students are my priority. But I think it’s really important that we, as SDSU leaders, not only invest in the institution, but within the local community. The work — especially around racial inclusion and social justice — doesn’t necessarily stop at SDSU. Many students stay in San Diego after graduation and become a part of the community. 

I moved to Pacific Beach (PB) about a year ago and was looking for people to connect with in the community. I realized that our PB community organizations and social media pages were not really geared toward people of color (POC). So I started an Instagram account, @blackbrownpb, to highlight Black, Indigenous and POC businesses, history and events. 

With the rise of this pandemic and police brutality, I wasn’t quite sure where I could go if I’m having a mental health issue or if I want to connect with a group of like-minded Black folks outside of SDSU. Inspired by the work of the Economic Crisis Response Team on campus, I compiled and publicly shared a Google Doc with resources for Black San Diegans. Last summer I also co-started an online petition to rename a community park in PB after Black educators. Nearly 3,000 people have signed and the initiative is moving forward. 

I’m just trying to get more involved with my community in PB, so I’ll be running for a board seat for one of the community organizations too. —as told to Lisa Haney

Paige Hernandez
Paige Hernandez (Photograph by Sandy Huffaker.)

Reka Barton
Reka Barton (Photograph courtesy of Reka Barton.)

REKA BARTON

An education Ph.D. student researching how young black students processed 2020

I taught elementary school for a decade, mostly in my hometown of Alexandria, Virginia. During that time, I saw Black and Latinx students being taught from a curriculum that just wasn’t culturally relevant to them. It made me wonder: Why are we using this, and how does this impact achievement? Ultimately, these questions led me to SDSU. As a doctoral student, I’m motivated to center and amplify the voices of children who have been overlooked or dismissed in the past.

2020 was a bizarre year. The first few weeks of COVID-19, followed immediately by incidents of racial injustice nationwide, were exhausting for me. I thought, “If I’m feeling this, how are kids feeling?” That’s what inspired my current research. I’m working with the amazing Dr. Marva Cappello, professor and director of the program, for a study on visuals in crisis — specifically how young Black students are processing this moment.

We’re asking our first- through sixth-grade participants to describe “2020” in their own words, and then draw their description using art supplies we’ve provided. In the next phase, we'll curate images from 2020 that correspond with the themes of their drawings. Then we’ll engage the students in a conversation about the selected images. So far, we’re seeing that these students miss their friends. They are not enjoying online learning. And some have mentioned being Black — via referencing protests and marches on TV, and the crayon hues they used to draw themselves. 

I think for most people, academia seems so far away from human behavior and everyday life. Being a Black female in this space, I want to remind everyone that our students’ voices are powerful and valuable. —as told to Michael Klitzing

CYNTHIA TORRES

Undocumented Resource Center director

My mother, Maria del Socorro, came to the United States undocumented in the early ’50s. She met my dad, Benjamin, who was born in National City and worked at the Dr. Pepper soda company. With time, my mother became a citizen. I remember as a kid going with her to her classes to learn English.

Looking back, I really appreciate how much my mom went through and how far she came, not just distance-wise, but she only had a sixth grade education. Yet she took that risk to come here to a foreign country and became a hard worker. After my dad became disabled, my mom got trained to open a childcare facility from our home. She took over as the head of household. She and my dad were humble, hard workers who wanted a better life for their children.

I feel that, when I do my work on campus now, in a way I’m doing it in memory of my mom and dad. I help support and assist students who are undocumented — or have family members who are — with any type of immigration questions they have, and assist them with navigating the maze of higher education. I also work closely with the Emergency Crisis Response Team to help students who are having an immediate food or housing crisis. And I work with our legal partners at the Jewish Family Services of San Diego to assist students with immigration questions, applying for DACA or steps for naturalization. 

Being so close to Mexico, there are a large number of Mexican individuals, but we also have folks from Asia, Canada, Europe, and Central and South America. They share a fear of revealing their status — a fear of being bullied, or separated from their family, or having violence aimed at themselves or their family members. Many feel alone. At the URC, we offer them programs and activities to continue to grow a strong connection to each other as well as the SDSU community.

I am honored to work with a group of students who are resilient and my heroes. I see them as my kids and there is such a feeling of fulfilment when I see them graduating and being successful.  —as told to Lisa Haney

Cynthia Torres
Cynthia Torres (Photograph by Sandy Huffaker.)

Jerry McCormick
Jerry McCormick (Photograph courtesy of Jerry McCormick.)

JERRY McCORMICK

Journalism lecturer and co-founder of the new National Association of Black Journalists chapter

The San Diego Association of Black Journalists and I have been trying to get a NABJ student chapter at San Diego State for a long time. What we found was that there weren’t a lot of Black students in the journalism department.

Now the right people have come together at the right time. Look at 2020, diversity is definitely needed in this country. Especially now that we’re in a virtual world, it’s more important than ever for students to stay connected and NABJ SDSU is a way for that to happen.

I think [Aleah] was the right person to lead this effort, [she] seemed to be super passionate and hardworking like I am. I think together, and with the officers in this group, we’re going to make this successful. I hope this group will show the students, particularly students of color, that journalism is a viable field to go into.

The student chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists at SDSU was first and now we’re following in their footsteps. I only hope that other groups will form and grow. —as told to Aleah Jarin

ALEAH JARIN

Journalism student and co-founder of the new National Association of Black Journalists chapter

When I first came to SDSU in fall 2019, I began to feel discouraged not seeing many people who looked like me within the School of Journalism and Media Studies. Once I learned SDSU had never established an NABJ chapter, I knew this had to change. I saw a need to create a space where other aspiring Black journalists could be supported, seen and heard.

Diversity is always needed, especially in today’s age. Jerry has been like a mentor to me and I cannot thank him enough for all his help with starting this club. I’m honored to be a part of history by creating this chapter and I’m so happy future Black students interested in journalism now have the opportunity to join this historic organization at SDSU.

I encourage others to always create the content you want to see. We need more resources like these to encourage diversity and inclusivity and to give people a sense that they belong.

 


Aleah Jarin
Aleah Jarin (Photograph courtesy of Aleah Jarin.)

Ann Huynh
Ann Huynh (Photograph courtesy of Ann Huynh.)

ANN HUYNH 

A school psychology graduate student working to defund the police in schools

As an educator, I believe it is my duty to fight for social justice at every level — whether it’s through advocating for a child on a micro level or advocating for policy changes on a macro level.

In response to systemic racism sustained by ongoing police violence, students and educators across the nation have organized to call for the defunding of police in schools. In San Diego, a group of Black youth have spearheaded the movement to defund school police in the San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). After attending the students’ actions and seeing the lack of educators supporting the movement, I felt it was imperative to rally the support of faculty and students at SDSU.

As educators, we have the power to advocate for policies and practices that promote safe, equitable and just schools. As such, I led the effort to send a letter to the SDUSD superintendent expressing our solidarity with Black youth organizers and supporting the call to divest from school police and to invest in services that will serve the needs of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students. A total of 50 SDSU educators signed the letter, including 15 faculty members from the College of Education and 35 graduate students from the school psychology program.

It is my hope that my colleagues will continue to stand in solidarity with youth and actively work to dismantle systemic racism and invest in BIPOC communities. I am currently completing my school psychology internship in Los Angeles and have joined a group called Students Deserve. This student-led group has already succeeded in defunding the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) police budget by $25 million, and we are continuing to organize to fully defund the LAUSD school police. As students and educators working together, we are working toward this goal through rallies, speaking at school board meetings, phone banking, education and other actions.” 

BRANDON LIM

’20 Alumnus; co-coordinator, the SDSU Social Justice Summit 

Looking back at 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement and party politics were among the sociopolitical events that dominated public discourse. They exposed systemic inequities across race, class, gender, public health and industry. While my academic background and extracurricular involvements informed my social justice advocacy, these events helped me merge that passion with purpose. 

I collaborated with Claudia Martinez and Eunice Flores in Career Services for the inaugural SDSU Social Justice Summit, funded by an Aztec Parents Fund grant, in November. In March, they approached me seeking input from social justice-minded student leaders. After submitting a workshop proposal, I reconnected with Claudia in October, and she graciously asked me to volunteer. 

I helped co-coordinate the summit because I believed in its mission — to help students facilitate conversations around social justice and how it intersects with career, everyday life and society. In my summit workshop, I was honored to share my lived experiences as a proud member of the Asian Pacific Islander Desi American (APIDA) and LGBTQIA+ communities. I reflected on how, as students developing our careers, we can leverage our cultural capital to create meaningful social change.  

I hope that we continue that dialogue as a society. I believe we have a collective responsibility to elevate the narratives of people from historically marginalized and underserved communities — people who have cultivated resilience through failure, frustration at the lack of authentic representation and inclusion, and the determined resourcefulness to effect positive social change. Only then can we restore justice in the spirit of diversity, equity, inclusion and community solidarity.

Brandon Lim
Brandon Lim (Photograph by Sandy Huffaker.)
Kaye Sweetser

Kaye Sweetser (Photo courtesy of Kaye Sweetser)

 

KAYE SWEETSER

Professor of public relations working to increase diversity in PR

I have the honor of serving as the director of SDSU’s Glen M. Broom Center for Professional Development in Public Relations, which is committed to improving the PR profession. A major area of focus is increasing diversity and inclusion. The PR profession has attracted only 10% of its total force to be diverse. As communicators, we can’t do our jobs if we don’t have the voices of all people among us. We’re working to move the profession so that it can catch up with the nation’s demographics. Until then, we will work to help students see that there is a place for them within this profession. 
 
The center has a Black Mass Communication Scholars database and the Broom Speakers Bureau, both of which make it easier for professors to bring underrepresented voices into their classrooms. We’ve promoted these tools nationally to 250 media schools so far. The center also supported six students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (including SDSU) in the class of 2020 as they transitioned into their careers. Further, the Broom Student Fellows program is expanding to an HBCU campus this spring: The “Broomie” fellows at SDSU will welcome a cadre of PR seniors from Hampton University in Virginia. 
 
After listening and reflecting on social injustice last summer, we were ready to take further action. In August 2020, the center put on the Scrub Your Syllabus webinar. Nathian Shae Rodriguez, assistant professor of media studies, and I shared ideas and asked attendees to consider questions, such as: “Are you using inclusive language? How many readings or assignments highlight successful cases, scholars or professionals from communities of color?” PR faculty from 67 universities and 31 states attended. We were encouraged to see these ideas spreading across the nation.
 
Personally, I am motivated by trying to reverse generations of inequity that some Americans have experienced. I know that I cannot make up for the deeds of the past, but I know that change can begin when one person stands up.  —as told to Gabriela Romero