Tray Robinson came to Chico from Compton in 1989, having been recruited as a flanker for the Chico State football team—although a subsequent back injury kept him from playing. In 1995, Robinson graduated with a BA in liberal studies with a bilingual concentration in Spanish. The same year, his father, a keyboard player in a popular Southern California funk band, died of a massive heart attack—he was 54. The following year, Robinson began the “slow process” of telling his friends and family that he was gay. Robinson and his partner have been together for 12 years.
Robinson is CSU, Chico’s newly appointed director of university diversity programs. He’s also working on an interdisciplinary master’s degree that focuses on human relations and which, he says, “will help me do a better job.”
With a warm smile and contagious optimism, Robinson is already making a mark on campus. He’s also asking the university community to reconsider the definition of the word “diversity” itself. “Too many people think ‘diversity,’ and they think color, race, or ethnicity,” Robinson says. “But it’s also about gender, age, faith, disability, sexuality.”
Of course, he’d also simply like to see more diversity. “I want to see diversity infused into the entire campus,” says Robinson. “I want to see it included when we talk about the University’s other values, like sustainability and civic commitment.”
So does CSU, Chico president Paul Zingg. In fact, since first taking the University’s reins in February 2004, Zingg has committed himself—in lectures, interviews, executive memoranda, the University’s revised strategic plan, and letters to the campus and the Chico community—to recognizing and valuing diversity.
Zingg, who is on the American Council for Education’s (ACE) Commission on Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Equity, is adamant about recruiting students from a broad range of backgrounds. “As a public institution,” he says, “we seek to serve the people and the needs of California. That means providing access for all Californians who are qualified for admission to the CSU; stimulating their sights on higher education; providing hope, opportunity.
“Yes, there’s a practical piece here—workforce preparation and economic opportunity. But, it’s more than that. Social justice and a strong social fabric are at stake, too.”
Thanks in part to Zingg’s active role in recruiting students from different backgrounds, 2007 saw a 25 percent increase of minority student applicants over 2006. In addition, from 2004 to 2007, the number of first-time students (see chart) and the number of CSU, Chico undergraduates (see chart) who identified themselves as non-white increased. Robinson, Zingg, and others are also working to diversify the faculty and staff, in part by opening up hiring pools, supporting a wide range of applicants, and providing support and opportunities for new hires.
Charles (CC) Carter is the director of the campus’s newly re-formed Cross Cultural Leadership Center (formerly the Multicultural Center). He sees the center as a sort of mini-student union, a place where “students will feel respected, connected, and affirmed,” says Carter. Scheduled to be in its new home in the Meriam Library by fall 2008, CCLC will offer office space—with computers, Internet access, meeting rooms, and other resources—to a wide range of student organizations, including the Hmong Student Association, PRIDE/Safe Zone, the American Indian Club, and MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán).
“I want the CCLC to be known as a place that welcomes everyone interested in building an inclusive community,” says Carter.
In addition to these student groups and the new CCLC, CSU, Chico has a wide range of organizations offering support to Chico’s diverse array of students, faculty, and staff. Key among them, of course, is the Educational Opportunity Program (see Chico Statements, fall 2007). Other groups and programs include Disability Support Services; Associated Students Women’s Center; MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement), serving educationally disadvantaged students; the Business Resource Center, recruiting a diverse student population with leadership skills and a strong sense of social responsibility; and the Multicultural Affairs Council, which sponsors the popular Multicultural Night. The Multicultural and Gender Studies Program cultivates a diverse and just environment through its curriculum and its support of student and community organizations, forums, lectures, and workshops.
One need not be a linguist to recognize cognates of the word “university”: unity, union, united, unit, universe—from the Latin universus, for “the whole world.”
Which is us. We.
“We truly are a better and more interesting place because of diversity,” says Zingg. “That means the University, the community, and beyond.”