After a dramatic two-year period where posters, stickers and hate rhetoric have made headlines in Turlock, the City and Stanislaus State have entered into a unique partnership meant to help residents feel safe both in town and on campus by addressing issues of inclusion and diversity while fostering belonging and acceptance.
The Turlock City Council voted unanimously on Sept. 11 to create the Joint Taskforce on Diversity and Inclusion, which will see the City and University work together to coordinate, encourage and implement initiatives and activities to promote an inclusive community.
"Turlock is a great place to live, with a rich history of diverse cultures and walks of life," Mayor Gary Soiseth said. "This task force will serve as a great tool to help highlight the benefits of our diversity while also tackling pressing issues of inclusion and acceptance in our city. I'm grateful for the strong partnership with Stanislaus State and their dedication to supporting the wider Turlock community."
Problems surrounding inclusivity and diversity most recently began in Turlock in October 2016 when Stanislaus State student Nathan Damigo began to propagate white-supremacist messages via posters on campus. From there, Damigo went on to help organize dangerous rallies in Charlottesville, North Carolina, and Berkeley, which had ties to white supremacy.
More posters popped up around campus earlier this year, as well as alt-right stickers around town, and both Turlock residents and Stanislaus State students have implored Soiseth and University President Ellen Junn to take action by staging protests and making office visits.
The most recent action to create the taskforce is an expansion of the work already in progress at Stanislaus State, where Junn last year created a Diversity Center to actively study and confront diversity and inclusion issues on campus.
“It is of paramount importance that every person who steps on our campus, whether student, faculty, staff, administration or guest, feels as if they’ve entered a zone where everybody is welcome,” Junn said. “This is something in which we believe strongly, and many students have spoken out and participated in peaceful demonstration on our campus to bring attention to these needs. A formal partnership to address these needs on a city-wide basis is an important step for everybody.”
The 15-member taskforce will be comprised of people representing the City of Turlock, Stanislaus State and the community. Each application will be reviewed by the city manager and University representatives, who will then recommend prospective members to the City Council for ratification.
The committee will be responsible for hosting educational and cultural events, lectures and activities, gathering and reviewing data on relevant diversity topics, establishing a closer communication method between the City and University on issues of diversity and much more.
“The importance of this taskforce cannot be overstated,” City Manager Bob Lawton said. “By joining campus, city and citizens in common cause, we raise understanding and reduce the fear of the unfamiliar. I look forward to supporting the taskforce’s efforts toward greater community unity.”
The taskforce will be accepting applications for the following positions: two community organization representatives, two faith-based organization representatives, one Stanislaus State faculty or staff representative, one high school student, one Stanislaus State student and three community residents.
Council member Amy Bublak pointed out that since there is more than one high school in Turlock, an additional high school representative should be added to the taskforce, which Junn said could be looked into. Council member Gil Esquer lauded the effort, highlighting the significant decrease in the “town-gown divide” that has taken place in recent years.
“I think this is a really good idea because I remember the early days when it always seemed like the university was out there, and that was one community, and Turlock was a separate community,” he said. “That created a few issues in the beginning and it lasted for many years, so I think we’re on a great path.”
Applications for each role on the taskforce will be accepted through 5 p.m. on Oct. 5. For more information on how to apply, visit www.csustan.edu/diversity-matters.