From the President: Eliminating Our Equity Gaps
Dear campus community,
For many, if not all of us, 2022 has had a bumpy start. The unprecedented COVID surge due to Omicron has left many of us disheartened, exhausted and even angry. We are just a few weeks shy of having spent two years “flattening a curve” for a virus we now know is likely to be with us forever. The good news, of course, is that vaccinations and new treatments increasingly provide us tools to manage this. But with children under five and others still vulnerable, anxieties abound. A colleague of mine recently put into words the vague malaise I have been feeling, noting that the pandemic and other challenges have “tested her ability to remain encouraged.” It is hard to remain encouraged after so many months of trauma and anxiety. But as they have for the last 23 months, our SF State colleagues buoyed my spirits and kindled my encouragement when we gathered last week to reaffirm our commitment to our students and our mission.
At SF State’s first annual All-University Retreat, centered on Resounding Resilience: Faculty and Staff Support Student Success, faculty, staff, administrators and students gathered together to share and candidly discuss inequities in our graduation rates. It was a powerful day, opening with faculty sharing their own experiences as first-generation students from BIPOC communities. For those who missed it, the retreat will be available soon on the Center for Equity and Excellence in Teaching and Learning's (CEETL) YouTube channel. We learned that despite recent efforts, equity gaps persist between racial and ethnic groups – a gap of nearly 10% at SF State. Recent data shows that too many of our Black and Latinx students continue to walk away without a degree. Only 67% of Black and Latinx first-year students who started in Fall 2019 remained enrolled by Fall 2021—574 students are no longer here making progress toward their degrees. And research repeatedly shows that few of those who walk away go on to earn degrees from any institution. This is not who we are or want to be.
Chancellor Castro has set an ambitious goal of eliminating equity gaps across the CSU. As I remarked at the retreat, at SF State, we do not need to be prodded to do this. Our historic commitment to social justice and educational equity requires us to work tirelessly to eliminate inequities. Closing our equity gaps is the right thing to do for our students, their families, our region, and the state. It is also in the best interest of the health of our institution. Improving the student experience will enable us to retain more students and will attract more students to study at SF State, helping us increase our enrollment numbers. Strengthening our enrollment numbers will provide us with a more solid financial foundation upon which to hire staff and faculty to support our students and one another. Close to half of our students identify as Black, Latinx, Pacific Islander or Native American. Helping them attain their degree goals in far greater numbers helps us all.
I urge you all to read the remarks that Provost Summit shared at the retreat. She drew on bell hooks, Vaclav Havel and Lani Guinier to remind us that we have the power to change the University and “to imagine how things might be.” And we will do more than we imagine, we will improve outcomes for all our students. Building on the work already underway across the University’s colleges, divisions and offices and the work of groups like the Student Success and Graduation Initiative Committee, we have created an action plan to meet the objectives outlined by Chancellor Castro. Over the coming weeks, you will hear more about the plan and the work required to meet the goal of eliminating our equity gaps. There is no university better poised to do this than SF State. Working with unrelenting focus and together, across traditional divides, we can do this.
As we plan for a resumption of in-person services and instruction, I am aware of concerns about those who remain most vulnerable to COVID. I encourage students who are concerned about returning this semester to work with their advisors and departments to create online schedules for spring as we have robust online offerings. I will reach out next week to confirm our plans for spring.
Wishing you a good week, whether working or studying in person or virtually.
Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D.