Cal State East Bay Focuses on Inclusivity Here and Abroad

A top-down and bottom-up commitment to diversity and inclusion has become a trademark of one of the most diverse universities in the U.S.

This team approach is what makes Dianne Rush Woods so proud of her school, California State University, East Bay (CSUEB).

“We have a very diverse campus, and the president wanted to focus on strategies and tactics to support that diversity and make sure it is inclusive,” says Woods, who is the first diversity officer at CSUEB. “I’m really very proud of the University Diversity Council [whose members help implement the university diversity plan] and the president and provost for their commitment to this work.”

Woods says that her 2013 appointment, and inclusion in President Leroy Morishita’s cabinet, indicate the university’s commitment to diversity.

President Morishita came to CSUEB in 2011, and from the beginning, inclusive excellence has been at the forefront of his presidency. In his diversity and inclusion commitment statement, Morishita said he is committed to “maintaining an institution known for its integrity, civility, equity, respect, and ethical behavior” and called for the continued dedication of every member of the university community.

CSUEB diversity officer Dianne Rush Woods and President Leroy Morishita appear with exemplary students at the university’s 2015 MLK Breakfast Celebration. (From left to right: Woods, Morishita, Jeremiah Dillihunt, Rocio Perez, Ryan Tayahua, DaRyn Merriwether, and Ashley Roseboro)
CSUEB diversity officer Dianne Rush Woods and President Leroy Morishita appear with exemplary students at the university’s 2015 MLK Breakfast Celebration. (From left to right: Woods, Morishita, Jeremiah Dillihunt, Rocio Perez, Ryan Tayahua, DaRyn Merriwether, and Ashley Roseboro)

“We are extremely pleased and honored to be selected as a 2014 recipient of the HEED Award,” Morishita said in an email. “This award recognizes the ongoing commitment of our students, faculty, and staff to ensure that all of our students achieve excellence and a quality university experience. … I am proud of the work our educational community is doing to eliminate barriers in making [CSUEB] a welcoming, inclusive, and supportive place to learn, live, and work.”

CSUEB mirrors the diversity of the Bay Area it calls home, with 52 percent of enrolled students identifying as either Latino or Asian/Pacific Islander. The university is also a federally designated Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institution, and last year, it attained Hispanic-Serving Institution status.

Serving the wide-ranging needs of the university’s diverse students requires organization and support, which Woods provides. She is modest about her role in facilitating diversity efforts, though, crediting instead the “foot soldiers committed to diversity” and the affinity groups for students from historically underrepresented groups.

Retention and Graduation    

One exemplary initiative at CSUEB is the Gaining Access ‘N Academic Success (GANAS) program, which helps retain and graduate community college transfer students by creating cohorts of these students who take upper-level general education classes together. Woods says 80 percent of students participating in GANAS identify as Latino, and Latino faculty members serve as mentors and role models to those in the program. Another program about to kick off at CSUEB, called Sankofa, has the same structure and goal but is geared toward African American transfer students. However, both programs are open to all university students.

“We looked at the graduation rates of the student populations that were not doing so well and tried to think of what we could do to help,” Woods says. “The next big step is figuring out how to scale these programs and provide the same support to first-generation and lower [socioeconomic status] students, who make up about 61 percent of [all] students. This is the president’s big goal.”

Global Education for All Students

Until the beginning of this year, Kelly Moran, director of CSUEB’s Center for International Education (CIE), was the university’s sole study abroad adviser. But in partnering with the Institute of International Education (IIE) to increase the number of students studying abroad — as part of IIE’s Generation Study Abroad initiative — the university recognized the need to hire more advisers.

“We helped [Morishita] draft up our commitment proposal for the initiative, which is to triple the number of CSUEB students going abroad,” Moran says. “Because our numbers are so low, we think it’s doable.”

Despite enrolling about 1,000 international students last year, Moran says CSUEB sent only 30 students abroad. “Of those 30 students who studied abroad, only seven identified as white,” Moran says.

Moran theorizes that the university’s large population of first-generation students is one reason why study abroad participation rates at the school are so low.

“Our campus has traditionally been a commuter campus,” she says. “Students have job and family commitments, they still live at home with their parents, and many are first-generation college students. So finances and time are definitely factors.”

The Educational Opportunity Program at the university has worked with the CIE on outreach efforts to first-generation students. With additional staff members, Moran says she thinks they’re “moving in a positive direction” toward expanding the number and types of students studying abroad.

One new area Moran learned to navigate this year was disability accessibility abroad. Together with the Accessibility Services office, she helped send CSUEB student Brandon Biggs, who is blind, to Milan, Italy, for a year.

“This was our first opportunity to work with Accessibility Services, and after working together, we’ve sort of realized, hey, that wasn’t so bad,” Moran says. “So in the future, we may see more students with physical disabilities [becoming] interested in studying abroad.”

Katie Brown, director of accessibility services at CSUEB and a member of the University Diversity Council, says the process was a learning experience.

“We had never dealt with [sending a student with a physical disability abroad] before, and as far as I know, Brandon is the first blind [CSUEB] student to go abroad,” she says.

The accessibility office is responsible for translating and converting Biggs’ Italian textbooks into braille because the Italian university does not have the necessary technology. Corazon “Coco” Napolis, accessible media coordinator at CSUEB, says she has a 15-person team that works to produce texts and handouts in braille.

“The accessibility department is fantastic,” Biggs says. “And the international office at my university is super accommodating. They even have a person who goes with me to get my legal papers in order.”

Originally, Biggs had intended to study in Germany. That was until he received a letter from the institution there denying his admittance because of his physical disability.

“I was not quite sure what I wanted to do because this is so illegal in the U.S.,” Biggs says. “The disability department at CSUEB said they would help me in whatever I wanted to do.”

Biggs’ experience with the Accessibility Services office at CSUEB is just one example of the university’s commitment to serving all segments of its student body. And Brown attributes this deliberate commitment to support from all levels at the university.

“I think it’s great that we have the title, position, and leadership behind diversity on campus,” she says. “Usually, accessibility is an afterthought on campuses, but here, we’re always at the table. … The president and provost are super supportive.”●

Rebecca Prinster is a senior staff writer for INSIGHT Into Diversity.