Fall 2021 Convocation Address

Fall 2021 Convocation video

August 19, 2021

Good morning, and welcome to Convocation 2021. Let me start by welcoming all of you who are watching this livestream: to our students, faculty, and staff; our alumni; our emeriti faculty; and our many friends. Welcome to Talia Bettcher, chair of the Academic Senate. Welcome and thanks to our ASI President Diana Chavez, and all of our student representatives for your leadership. I look forward to working with you all throughout the year. To our new faculty: welcome to the Golden Eagle family. You are joining one of the finest faculties in this nation and I look forward to all of the ways you will contribute to our university. We also have three new deans, one of whom is new to Cal State LA. Welcome to Dr. Julianne Malveaux, our new dean of the College of Ethnic Studies, Dr. Rene Vellanoweth, dean of the College of Natural and Social Sciences and Dr. Lena Chao, dean of the College of Arts and Letters.

This livestream is coming to you from the stage of the beautiful Luckman Theatre. Today the theatre is mostly empty. Of course during normal times, you all would be here, filling the theater with the excitement and anticipation that accompany a new academic year. I don’t need to tell you that these are not normal times. These are still times of adjusting and adapting, of reaching for and achieving excellence in new ways, of pulling together, in spite of the challenging circumstances, to make things happen. This idea of pulling together to make good things happen for our students has been the central theme of our experience this past year, and it informs our work going forward into this new academic year as we welcome home many of our students and faculty.

This academic year opens against a varied backdrop: part familiar excitement, and part surreal because of the current challenge of the COVID-19 Delta variant. We all had hoped that the pandemic would be behind us by now. It is still with us. But even under these circumstances, the Cal State LA community—our faculty, staff, and administrators—has pulled together and worked in extraordinary ways to support the success of our students. I applaud and thank you all for the dedication you’ve maintained for the past 18 months. Nothing symbolizes that dedication better than our graduates at Commencement. This highlight video of Commencement 2021 reminds us all of why we do what we do.

You could feel the joy, the excitement, the pride and yes the gratitude in the air of Reeder Field. More than 6,500 graduates walked the stage; 37,000 family and friends attended over seven days and 20 ceremonies. And we accomplished this during a pandemic, in the middle of a Southern California summer. This year marks the first time graduates of our Prison B.A. Initiative walked the Commencement stage. No other California university boasts a program like ours. And of course, without our tremendous faculty and staff, this Commencement and all it commemorates, would not have been possible. A special thank you to the Commencement team led by Vice President Janet Dial, James Cuaresma, and Maria Magolske.

We are poised to continue positioning our students for success. In this climate, that work begins with a focus and plan for the safety of everyone. Throughout the pandemic, the health and safety of our community has been our priority. This year we will continue to follow campus, county, state, and federal protocols. This includes requiring masks indoors, testing for COVID-19, vaccination verification, and providing vaccination clinics. Thank you to all of you who have provided documentation through our online system. We’ll offer our next pop-up vaccination clinic on campus later this month to provide the vaccine to our students, staff and faculty and their friends and family members, and offer testing as well. All of these measures are designed to protect our community so we can be together and be safe.

Across the university, we continue to improve the ways we assist students on their road to success. Cal State LA’s Early Start Program offers more than 900 incoming freshmen the opportunity to enroll in fundamental math and English courses. More than 500 students had the opportunity to complete their required GE math course before their fall semester begins, giving them a head start to graduation.

Throughout this year and beyond, we will continue our work to maintain a diverse and inclusive campus where all students feel a sense of belonging. We’ve admitted 24% more Black students for Fall 2021 than we did for Fall 2020 and 140% more than we did for Fall 2019.

We anticipate enrolling a total of 27,000 students, with more than 4,000 new first-time students and 3,800 new transfer students, which would make this our largest transfer class ever. Students have selected from a robust schedule of classes, half of which offered remote instruction and half in-person instruction. And I’m proud to share that we are planning to hire 91 new full-time, tenure-track faculty this year. We believe this may be the largest number of new hires in the recent history of the university.

We are ready to welcome you home. And we’re upgrading technology in our classrooms. We’re enhancing and monitoring our HVAC systems in buildings throughout the university. New modular restrooms are now available outside of King Hall. Our brand new residence hall is set to open for freshmen and sophomores and other students will reside in campus apartments, with COVID-19 protocols and guidelines in place.

Our new state-of-the-art Student Services Building will be open as a one-stop shop for students. We will continue to assist students with emergency grants, food pantry distributions, laptops, hotspots, and for students new to Cal State LA, iPads through the CSU’s new C-SUCCESS program. We are hiring four additional psychological counselors to meet the needs of our students, along with a new director for the Student Health Center, and an additional staff physician. The WellBeing U initiative will continue to encourage students to focus on their wellbeing as they navigate school, family, jobs, and the pandemic. Through the WellBeing U speaker series, videos, podcasts, Wellbeing Wednesdays and the WellBeing U Minute, this initiative supports our students’ inner and physical wellbeing. 

I want to spend some time reflecting on the role we have played and continue to play in the communities that are home to our students. We have long prided ourselves on the rich relationships we’ve forged with the communities we serve, the ways we have collaborated with community-based organizations to do important work. We’ve used the time during the pandemic to expand our responses to need, loss, inequity and creativity and enterprise.

From February through June, our campus was one of the first federal vaccination sites set up by the Biden administration. At its height, the center offered a drive through and a walk up site that could accommodate 6,000 people per day. The federal government left in April and the site continued to operate under the control of the city. By the time the city closed the vaccination center at the end of June, nearly a half a million people had received their vaccinations here on our campus. Others received vaccinations through our mobile units and at our satellite locations

Working with our community partners, we’ve held massive food drives on campus and in the community and we held a flu clinic and offered a free testing site that was open to the community. Through our GO, or Great Outcomes programs, our Pathways Office launched a digital campaign of hope, titled, “Education Isn’t Canceled,” to encourage high school students to hold on to their dreams of earning a university degree during the pandemic. And this year GEAR UP 4 LA continued its work to decrease equity gaps for underserved students of color as they transition to higher education. Pathway Programs and GEAR UP 4 LA have teamed up to manage the transition of first-time freshmen onto Cal State LA's campus and support these students throughout their first year of college.

I’ve been struck by the creativity you have displayed and scholarship you’ve engaged in throughout the pandemic: Our College of Arts and Letters students performed War of the Worlds for Chancellor Joseph Castro during his visit to the campus earlier this year. We were amazed by the way the students met the challenge of performing without the traditional theater or television stage. During the pandemic, students from the Patricia A. Chin School of Nursing in the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services worked in underserved communities. College of Natural and Social Sciences faculty Marla Parker and Dimitri Seals won a grant and launched a new student entrepreneurship program to help communities recover following the pandemic. In ECST, there is a new program aimed at increasing transfer student success in science, technology, engineering, and math. Our Charter College of Education offered the Sal Castro Academy for Urban Teacher Leaders, in partnership with our College for Professional and Global Education. This weeklong professional development course trains teachers in anti-racist advocacy strategies to support educational equity. The College of Ethnic Studies, our newest college, is poised to continue to provide a transformative education rooted in the stories and histories, struggles and accomplishments, of diasporic communities of color and indigenous communities, making connections between the local and transnational, while advancing visions of social, political, and economic justice.     

I’m proud to announce that the Alumni Association Board of Directors last week approved the creation of the new Chicanx Latinx University Alumni Network, which will provide additional opportunities for many of our alumni to remain connected to and contribute to the university community.

Lots of great work is going on in all quarters. Whatever this year brings, we know that we will once again need to pull together for the good of our students and the communities we serve.  I have no doubt that we will, given the university’s track record of doing just that. For me the notion of community begins with the need and the desire to take care of one another. I’m inspired by the ways we do this every day, the way we sustain each other. We need each other.

I look forward to seeing faculty and staff again, face-to-face. I look forward to seeing the students I know, and meeting new ones. And I look forward to telling each of you: Welcome Home. Let’s have a good year.