Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Update

Friday, October 9, 2020 - 5:59pm

TO: Campus Community
FR: Dr. Jerlena Griffin-Desta, Chief Diversity Officer and Chief of Staff


Dear Campus Community,

We begin another academic year at Sonoma State, but in so many ways, nothing is the same as it has been at the start of academic years past. From the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the demonstrations to protest anti-Black violence; to COVID-19 and the reality of social distancing and distance learning that have upended our lives; to the raging wildfires in California that have blurred and reddened our skies – a cascade of social and natural crises continues to challenge all of us.

Even while living through these challenges and widespread unrest, however, we at Sonoma State have stayed focused on developing and implementing the necessary actions to make our campus community one that is truly equitable, inclusive, and just. I continue to be honored to serve as the inaugural Chief Diversity Officer for our university, and to have worked closely on this vital effort with our senior administrative and academic leadership, our student leaders, and the members of our President’s Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, Campus Climate and Inclusion, with Co Chair Dr. Karen Schneider, since I arrived at Sonoma State in 2019.

These efforts have been dedicated to creating and strengthening anti-racist action, both with and in support of our fellow Seawolves. This includes Sonoma State community members of Asian heritage who have faced repugnant discrimination as a result of COVID-19, and those who are classified as “undocumented” who have endured relentless persecution as the result of vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. 

The results of this continuous effort so far include programmatic and structural initiatives (in process) via the establishment of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as guided by a collective vision we call Achieving Beloved Community. It is a broad, comprehensive approach that includes the following:

    •    A new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) website

    •    Community building and campus climate support

    •    Strategic consultation and planning 

    •    Educational and training opportunities

    •    Campus-based programming based on promising practices

I encourage you to browse our new website and to utilize the noted resources – including training and education requests, lists of programs and contacts, and other key information. Should you wish to contact the DEI office, you can do so by emailing diversity@sonoma.edu.

As those efforts to implement anti-racist action have underscored, the promise of a community that not simply values equity-mindedness and inclusion but also lives those values every day is important. The Beloved Community, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  called it, is the community envisioned in “We the People,” and “It takes a village,” and countless other maxims and ideals of mutual respect and responsibility. Responsibility is literally the ability to respond, and it is that ability - along with a sincere willingness – that we are fostering with our work.

Since President Sakaki’s call to action in her powerful June message, we have made real progress in the vital endeavor of upholding mutual respect and responsibility in our Seawolf community, and in addressing racial injustice at Sonoma State. We have begun our work toward acknowledging that race is a factor in many more ways that we may know or will admit; toward overcoming silent indifference towards racism and anti-Blackness at our university; and toward engaging Noma Nation in the difficult, yet critical dialogue around racism – and specifically racism towards Black people – that has taken on even greater urgency since George Floyd’s death. 

And, the unjust killings that continue to this day.

Together, we continue to face some of the darker truths about persistent racism in our country, and among our fellow Seawolves there seems to be a genuine openness to doing so. A campus community that is equitable and inclusive is a campus community in which every course, every department, every residence, and every office is rooted in anti-racism. 

The shift to conscious and proactive anti-racist values and behavior is deliberative and strategic, because its necessity is directly proportionate to its difficulty. We must be committed not only to making that shift ourselves, but also to helping each other make that shift. Only then can we be the best version of ourselves as individuals, and only then can Sonoma State be the best version of itself as a university community. 

As a Black woman who grew up in the vestiges of the Jim Crow segregated South, I know what racism feels like – from petty, stinging microaggressions to broad institutional discrimination and marginalization. Even so, I am someone who always tries to extend empathy and understanding, and who has dedicated my career to helping build the kind of communities I value – the kind of communities that thrive through inclusion and shared, equitable well-being. This is what I want for Sonoma State. 

I promise that I will do my best to support this campus in becoming its own Beloved Community. And I will do so with respect and compassion and joy. 

In closing, I ask you to consider the words of the poet and social justice activist June Jordan. In her sweeping and evocative seven-part poem, “From Sea to Shining Sea,” she wrote these lines:

This is a good time
This is the best time
This is the only time to come together

Let’s begin each day at Sonoma State with a shared commitment to coming together – to acknowledging that this is the best time to make our campus community truly equitable, inclusive, and just.