President’s Open Forum focuses on underrepresented communities at CSUB

Haydee Barahona, News Editor

Members of the CSUB faculty and student body meet for the President’s Open Forum on Sept. 26. Photo by Courtney Park.

The President’s Open Forum on Sept. 26 focused largely on underrepresented communities at California State University, Bakersfield.

According to Vernon Harper, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, the biggest impact of the pandemic has been on equity gaps at CSUB. Last year, the gap was around 2.1%, which has doubled, this year, to about 4.3%. 

“As we all know, the pandemic had disproportionate effects on people of color in this country. We can see that very, very markedly in this particular rate. Again, we have a specialized task force that’s working on this particular issue. We have looked at a lot of data and one of the things that really, really comes out of this data is that we can certainly do more, and we will,” said Harper. 

Harper said that following the death of George Floyd, there have been academic initiatives occurring on campus related to The Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. 

“We’re going to make structural changes to the division in order to ensure that we are doing everything we can to advance DEI,” said Harper.  

Dr. Vernon Harper discusses the impact Covid-19 has had on students during the President’s Open Forum on Sept. 26. Photo by Courtney Park.

According to Harper, CSUB is in the middle of its first diversity cluster hire. 

“That is ten lines that are devoted to this particular effort,” said Harper, “where we are seeking faculty across many disciplines with a focus on minoritizing the communities and social justice, so that’s a requirement of those hires and those individuals.”

To qualify for the cluster hire, Harper said that the departments had to commit to diversity training for all search committee members, changes to retention, tenure, and promotion criteria, and to make the ten faculty members successful and permanent members of the community.  

“It was clear to me that many of our underrepresented faculty do not get the opportunities that others do on this campus, and I was going to use this role in order to place them in decision-making positions,” said Harper. 

Claudia Catota, the chief diversity officer and special assistant to the president, said that over the summer, DEI has been participating in the national organization Excelencia in Education. The organization is dedicated to accelerating Latino student success. 

“I’m proud to say that Dr. Lynnette Zelezny, our president, has joined Presidents for Latino Student Success, a national network where presidents sort of express their commitment to Latino student success,” said Catota. 

According to Catota, DEI also participated in leveraging data institutes and evidence of effectiveness to demonstrate potentialities for Latino students. Currently, they are participating in faculty development. 

Catota said that DEI will also be working on a faculty staff recruitment plan.  

“My division is overseeing the affirmative action plan that shows the data to where certain ethnicities and genders are represented at the staff level, as well as MPPs, and at what levels they are. So, we are using that data to craft some recruitment strategies we’re going to use,” said Catota. 

Catota said that two new advisory councils are being launched, the Asian American Pacific Islander Advisory Council and the Native American Advisory Council. 

Director of Organizational Excellence, Training and Development Daniel Jimenez said that his team is planning to look at leadership and development for everyone on campus, particularly the staff, at any level and within any position.  

“We are looking at programs for those that are starting their careers and looking at people already in MagEc positions so they can advance their degrees even further,” said Jimenez.