Dear Titan Family:
Welcome back and Happy New Academic Year! It’s wonderful to see our faculty, staff, and students breathing life back into our campus community. Each of you bring such energy to the University and a love for teaching, learning, and listening that empowers all Titans to Reach Higher in our classrooms and throughout our diverse communities.
We are at a moment in history when the marketplace of ideas that we at Cal State Fullerton promote and protect through equity, inclusion, and civil discourse has the power to heal and lead a wounded nation.
The last time we were all together, we witnessed the transformative power of upholding these and other core tenets with what was arguably the greatest achievement of our now 60-year history: the commencement of our largest graduating class — nearly 11,000 diverse Titans, the majority of whom were low-income students and/or the first in their family to put on a college graduation cap.
For years, I’ve made it a practice to read what’s written on the backs of those caps; I find the messages not only inspiring, but also indicative of the collective mood of our nation through the words of the young people who will soon be leading it.
As a woman of color, a Godmother and Tía, a proud American, and most of all, as president of a University founded on the very principles of equity and inclusion that have recently come under attack in ways this nation hasn’t seen in half a century, I am proud that at this past commencement a rising tide of peaceful resistance was evident in the words of our graduates’ speeches, in the spirit of their families’ cheers, and of course, on the backs of their graduation caps.
“Nevertheless,” the back of one young woman’s cap said, “she persisted.”
“Love Trumps Hate,” another said in rainbow letters.
“Mis padres cruzaron la frontera,” one read in Spanish, “para que yo pudiera cruzar este escenario.” “My parents crossed the border so I could cross this stage.”
These American themes of justice and hope in the face of bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia reminded me of a movement I took part in during my own youth, and given the progress we made as a nation in the decades since, I find it tragic that someone can look at a mob of neo-Nazis chanting hateful slogans on a college campus and claim that some of them are “very fine people,” or that the murderous violence their hatred sparked can be blamed on “many sides.”
This kind of language and leadership has unearthed a dark reality and emboldened the worst among us. Most recently, this culminated in Charlottesville, and when I saw a diverse group of student counter-protestors huddled together in the face of an oncoming sea of white supremacists, I couldn’t help but think of our own courageous students and a quote that was central to my Convocation Address last week: “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
Fellow Titans, just as that time had come for Martin Luther King, Jr. when he first said those words in 1967, it has come for us now. As the faculty, staff, and students of the largest university in the most diverse system of higher education in the country, it is time for us to wield the power of our collective voice to let the world know that we stand firmly and proudly on the right side of history with immigrants who made this country great long before it was a campaign slogan; with our undocumented students who have nothing to do with how they came to America and everything to do with what it means to be an American; with Muslim faculty, staff and students who face travel bans that may impede their work and education; with African American students who attend classes in buildings named after Confederate generals who fought to keep them out of those buildings; with our LGBTQ community who fear losing their well-earned rights; with our Jewish brothers and sisters who endured the anti-Semitic chants of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville; and with our Caucasian Titans who remain deeply embedded in Cal State Fullerton’s definition of diversity and whose presence and voice is integral to who we are and what we aim to become.
As a public university that fosters a learning environment in which diverse perspectives from both sides of the political aisle are central to our mission, we are in a unique position to lead the country during this pivotal moment of history. We will do so by upholding the First Amendment rights enshrined in our constitution while also supporting those who may be hurt, scared, or offended by that speech, recognizing that our rich diversity is our most prized asset and that intolerance in any form is an affront to all of us. Paramount to this endeavor is safeguarding the physical safety of all faculty, staff, and students by providing a violence-free academic environment grounded in the mutually respectful exchange of ideas from all sides.
We may face offensive language from individuals with whom we strongly disagree. Our commitment to uphold their right to speak should be matched only by our determination to challenge them through civil discourse, peaceful protest, and the hope that education — the truest and longest-standing cure for hatred and violence — sparks a transformation in them that could be surmised with a quote from Nelson Mandela on the back of one of our graduate’s caps:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Welcome home, fellow Titans. Let’s embrace the work ahead, the challenges our nation faces, and most importantly, each other.