Fresno State President Joseph Castro focused his annual address Wednesday on boosting diversity and inclusion efforts on campus.
The university has been holding monthly inclusion and equity meetings, where professors, students and others can talk candidly about how to address sensitive issues on campus.
Castro committed to improving assistance to black students. Earlier this year, black student protests called for more recruiting and retention efforts from administration. Only about 3 percent of Fresno State’s student body is black.
A new retreat was held this summer for black students and faculty to exchange ideas about how to create a better sense of community on campus. “The call to better support African American students in connecting with their peers and the university was heard and put into action,” Castro said.
Castro also spoke in support of LGBT students, noting that the university has responded to transgender students’ request for name changes on student ID cards. He said the university is also working to make more of its bathrooms gender neutral.
Particularly right now, we must listen to what’s going on in our world and what that means for us.
Fresno State President Joseph Castro
“The call on our LGBTQ community for the freedom to designate individual students’ name preference was heard, and we put that into action,” he said. “There had been a difference in maybe their name preference and what our official roll said in our system, and out of respect for them, we learned from that and made those adjustments. I think it will make a big difference for these students who have been experiencing pain because it made them feel like they didn’t belong.”
Castro told faculty and staff at the Save Mart Center that unity, empathy and listening are important now more than ever. Since Fresno State students left for summer break, several police shootings of unarmed black men have made headlines. In June, nearly 50 people were killed in an Orlando gay club, considered the worst hate crime against the LGBT community in U.S. history. In July, five Dallas police officers were killed by a shooter who reportedly was angry over police shootings of black men.
“I’m going to continue to encourage even greater levels of civility this year. I think given national and international issues and tragedies that it’s so important that we reaffirm our commitment to civility and respectful dialogue. Particularly right now, we must listen to what’s going on in our world and what that means for us,” Castro said. “What if unity across the campus came not only at a crisis but would also come out of us seeing the opportunity to elevate student success?”
Francine Oputa, director of Fresno State’s Cross Cultural and Gender Center, helps lead the university’s inclusion discussions. She said it’s not easy for professors to handle these tough conversations on campus – but avoiding them would be a statement in itself.
“I don’t think that professors have to be neutral. I think they have to be fair. They have to be equitable and allow for all voices to be heard,” she said. “We’re trying to create a safe campus environment in general, but particularly with the new things that are happening in our nation and in our world. There is a heightened awareness.”
Also at Wednesday’s address, Castro announced:
▪ A compensation plan for faculty and staff that has increased salaries, wages and benefits by $26 million since 2013. An additional $11 million is projected for the coming year.
▪ Sixty-nine new tenure-track faculty hired this fall – the largest group in 20 years.
▪ A new campaign that aims to improve the university’s visibility in the community, including commercials that urge the sale of Bulldog football tickets.