Stanislaus State President Ellen Junn delivered her fifth Fall Welcome Address on Wednesday as students, faculty and staff gear up for the start of school next week, but the annual event saw the university leader give her words of wisdom to a computer screen rather than a packed hall.
The virtual salutation kicked off what Junn described as “the most unusual and challenging semester” in Stanislaus State’s 60-year history due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced almost all classes online. Despite the uncertain terrain, Junn promised a commitment to providing students with a top-tier education regardless of how instruction is received.
From the virus which has changed life as students know it to the recent social justice uprising throughout the country, Stanislaus State will look ahead to the future during this time to promote a more diverse and safe campus for all, she said.
“We have a unique opportunity in this moment in time to create change on our campus and within our respective community,” Junn said. “I encourage each of us to think more broadly about diversity, equity and inclusion, to think of how society benefits when many diverse perspectives work together to find solutions to our problems, to consider what it means to truly strive for equity.”
The university hopes to lead by example in those areas through a variety of new resources and programs, many of which will launch this fall. A campus climate study will help to implement processes which the campus community can eventually utilize to report concerns or worrisome behavior at the university, and new trainings taught and promoted anti-racism initiatives among faculty. In October, Faculty Affairs will host a forum geared toward recruiting, retaining and supporting faculty of color.
These programs — just several of many — were the result of a collaborative effort between the President’s Commission on Diversity and Inclusion and the campus community. Junn said she was moved by the candid words members of the university’s Black Faculty and Staff Association and Black Student Union shared with her following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
“I heard your voices loud and clear and am committed to turning heartbreak into change,” Junn said. “As I shared in my statement to the campus community, Black Lives Matter at Stan State. While that statement is heartfelt and true, we will move beyond those words to real action.”
The university president applauded the recent landmark legislation signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, which requires all undergraduate students in the California State University System to take an ethnic studies course. In addition, she pointed to the recently-established Male Success Initiative Program set to launch this fall, which aims to increase graduation rates and success of male students of color.
“Taken together, these new trainings and initiatives represent steps on our journey toward creating a diverse and inclusive campus and educational experience for all our students,” she said. “We’re on that path and we will continue to move forward every day knowing that the path isn’t always easy, but it will result in growth as individuals and as a community.”
Stanislaus State is also taking steps to support its first-generation students, which make up 73 percent of the student body, through the first-ever cohort of Presidential First-Generation Central Valley Scholars. The program awarded six first-generation students (three freshmen and three transfers) with a full scholarship as well as laptops, internships opportunities and mentorship throughout their college career.
Unlike other universities, whose enrollment has suffered as students consider the risks of traveling, Stanislaus State had boded well when it comes to the number of transfers and incoming freshmen. With a reputation as a “commuter college,” Student Affairs is working hard to provide opportunities for students to connect even though they can’t be on campus. Virtual orientations were hosted throughout the summer, and the semester will kick off with eight weeks of Warrior Welcome fun which includes opportunities to explore resources and clubs from a distance.
In addition, Junn noted that the university was able to make needed budget cuts due to the pandemic without any permanent faculty or staff layoffs.
A prime example of Warrior perseverance came during the address when the Stanislaus State Chamber Choir performed the Portuguese song “Chiclete com Banana” — just one instance of many to come which showed how the college experience can still be achieved during these difficult times.
“We have learned a lot over the last six months and there is still much more to learn. While the pandemic has prevented us from being physically together on campus, in many ways it has made us better,” Junn said. “…I am so proud of our Warrior spirit, patience and grit.”
There’s plenty for students to know before the first day of school on Monday, where just 52 courses have been approved for on-campus instruction. A Fall 2020 resource website (csustan.edu/fall) is their one-stop shop for all things instruction during the pandemic.
“By working together, we will help drive the change that the world is seeking,” Junn said. “We will ‘Stan Up’ and stand together to get through this challenging time and emerge even stronger.”