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California | Education & Student Activism

Sonoma State: Maintaining Appearances
by Tanya Trimble
Monday Apr 29th, 2013 10:41 PM
Sonoma State University is maintaining its reputation of being the whitest, richest school in California as it cuts funding for key diversity support systems. Survey results suggest that students of color feel just as uncomfortable, in terms of their race on campus, as they did five years ago.
Sonoma State University has had a reputation as being one of the richest, whitest schools in California for many years now. So much so, that in 2007 a campus based diversity study was conducted to find out exactly how rich and how white. The results of this study were shocking and made many members of the school’s administration and faculty start talking about making some serious changes. However, it seems that perhaps that’s all it ever amounted to, a lot of talk.

As a member of the Investigative Sociology course’s diversity research group, I set out to find what if any real change had occurred in the personal comfort level for students of color in terms of their race at SSU. Using a very similar questionnaire guide to that of 2007, our research group conducted approximately fifty survey style interviews with randomly selected students of color on campus. The results, once again, were shocking. Not only did it become quickly apparent that the personal comfort levels had not improved over a five-year time span, but the personal accounts of racism were disheartening while simultaneously reminding us that racism is an ever-present force on our campus and in our community. Although we asked a variety of questions we gave specific attention to questions such as "What is your overall comfort level on campus in terms of your race?" and, "Do you feel that campus administration, staff and faculty support diversity on campus?" These questions allowed us to get an in depth understanding of students’ opinions on how faculty and administration play a role in supporting diversity on campus, as well as their experienced personal comfort, or lack there of. Responses varied, but the overall consensus illuminated a general feeling of a lack of diversity itself, as well as diversity support on the campus. Although almost no one responded as being completely uncomfortable or as having no feeling of support from faculty and administration, the results were not exceptionally positive. When asked the question, ”What is your overall comfort level in terms of your race?” only 37.5 percent of students answered “very comfortable”. As stated by Bruce Peterson, SSU Director of EOP, “no school should be proud when only 37% of its students feel very comfortable”. The results obtained by the survey were not in any way impressive or indicative of any real change.

Our research group interviewed not only Bruce Peterson from EOP, but also Elisa Velazques, who is the director of Diversity for SSU, and Mark Fabionar, the Director of The HUB, previously known as the Multicultural center. Our interviews with these faculty members focused on their response to our research results and helped us understand faculty points of view. During our interview with Elisa Velazques, we discovered that her position as Director of Diversity is being terminated as of Fall 2013 due to school budget cuts. As shocking as this news was, it was even more surprising to learn that Bruce Peterson is retiring after the Spring 2013 semester and his position is not being re-hired by the school. Sonoma State is eliminating the position of Director of Diversity and phasing out the position of Director of EOP.

Our 2013 survey results suggest that Sonoma State has experienced no change in the personal comfort levels for students of color since 2007. At the same time, the school is facing budget cuts due to its immense amount of debt. For CSU’s, Sonoma State is second only to Cal Poly in having the most debt in California. Some of this debt is of course related to the creation of the controversial Green Music Center. So, when a school is balancing its budget, does it choose to support diversity, which is a known issue on its campus, or build a world-class music venue? It seems Sonoma State has demonstrated its values by where it puts its money. The Director of Diversity and the Director of EOP are being eliminated, and students of color feel just as uncomfortable on campus as they did five years ago. Thus, our research suggests that Sonoma State will be maintaining its reputation as the richest, whitest CSU for some time to come.