December 2016 Newsletter: Peers in Pride Support Incoming LGBTQI Students

Photo: Melissa Anderson Peers in Pride mentors Ai Nakamura and Abdullah Deen work with incoming first-year and transfer LGBTQI students to help them acclimate to SJSU.

Photo: Melissa Anderson
Peers in Pride mentors Ai Nakamura and Abdullah Deen work with incoming first-year and transfer LGBTQI students to help them acclimate to SJSU.

Ai Nakamura and Abdullah Deen discovered SJSU’s PRIDE Center in their first days at SJSU, Nakamura during Admitted Spartan Day and Deen during freshman orientation. They both were interested in connecting with the LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) community at SJSU and in connecting with a mentor.

“I had no support system on campus – no family or friends,” said Deen, who identifies as gender queer and bisexual. “I wanted to create that by being part of the queer community.”

Deen was partnered with a mentor through the Peers in Pride program. Now a junior general business major, Deen is mentoring four new Spartans. Nakamura, a third-year computer science student who identifies as queer, also has four mentees. Nakamura stressed that the Peers in Pride program is a way to create a community for LGBTQI students while also drawing campus members to the PRIDE Center.

This fall, 13 mentors are working with 40 mentees. The Peers in Pride mentors undergo training with counselors from SJSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services to help them work with students who may be questioning their sexual orientation or gender, or who are dealing with personal challenges, such as lack of family support. They are trained about campus resources – both personal and academic – that they can refer students to when they need additional support. The mentors work with mentees during the fall semester, planning group activities at the PRIDE Center and also engaging one-on-one. Activities include barbecues, game nights and other monthly events.

“It’s nice to be able to pay it forward,” said Nakamura. “All throughout high school when I started questioning I had so many mentors, including counselors and an LGBTQ coordinator…It’s my turn to say it will be okay.”

Deen, who has not come out to family members, and Nakamura, who has told select relatives, understand the pressures other students may face. Nakamura described one student who came out right before college whose family cut them off financially. The student was concerned about how they would be able to afford college.

“Some students who haven’t come out yet aren’t sure their friends are going to accept them,” Nakamura said. “They are worried teachers will treat them differently, or they won’t have the same access to resources.”

Deen said another struggle is that students who are not out with their families can’t share some of their achievements such as participating in the Peers in Pride program. Nakamura and Deen both agreed that a big part of the program is helping other students connect to the LGBTQI community. In addition to involvement in Peers in Pride, Deen is active in the student organization Queer and Asian. With the Pride Center, the group is planning a Queer Prom in the spring on March 24.

““Every new mentee is a different story,” Nakamura said. “We get this beautiful opportunity to learn about them. Their story is not the same as your story, but we work to find an optimal solution. The big point is to connect to the community that is already here. We hear similar stories.”

October 2016 Newsletter: State Assembly Uses Public Hearing to Discuss Benefits, Challenges of Faculty Diversity

The California State Assembly Committee on Higher Education and the Assembly Budget Subcommittee No. 2 on Education Finance selected San Jose State University as its location for a public hearing on faculty diversity on Oct. 6. The campus hosted Assemblymembers Jose Medina, chair of the committee, Shirley Weber and Kevin McCarty, as well as several guest speakers who discussed the importance of faculty diversity in all public higher education systems – California Community Colleges, the California State University, and the University of California.

Medina, whose father attended SJSU and earned a civil engineering degree in the 1960s, recalled the university’s connection to social justice as he opened the hearing. He highlighted alumni Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ brave action at the 1968 Olympics, Louis Valdez’s founding of Chicano theater and Amy Tan’s narratives on immigrants in America.

“I know the history of this university and what it means as the oldest higher education public university in California,” he said. “I know what role it played in history, especially as it pertains to civil rights.”

Weber, who earned three degrees at UCLA, said her journey was “lonely and isolated” as an African American student at a time when the student body was not as diverse as it is today. When she became a professor at the university, she was one of the only faculty members of color on the campus.

“I hope we can move it a little further than we have in the past and understand what it means to have a campus reflective of California,” she said.

SJSU President Mary Papazian welcomed the assemblymembers to campus and thanked them for hosting a conversation around the important topic of faculty diversity.

“We need to address challenges in ensuring the retention of faculty, not only in developing the pipeline or ensuring the search process that reduces the inherent bias,” Papazian said. “Our Chief Diversity Officer Kathy Wong(Lau) will be working together with a team of people to really review what we are doing and why we haven’t been successful.”

While student populations have become more ethnically diverse at public universities, the faculty populations have not shifted. In fall 2015, 27 percent of students enrolled at CSU campuses identified as white, while 63 percent of faculty identified as such. There were similar disparities at community colleges and UC campuses. View the full hearing background document online.

October 2016 Newsletter: Conversations on Campus Climate Continue Dialogue

Students, faculty, staff and community members gathered for a Conversation on Campus Climate on Sept. 29, with facilitators in yellow shirts leading small group discussions.

Students, faculty, staff and community members gathered for a Conversation on Campus Climate on Sept. 29, with facilitators in yellow shirts leading small group discussions.

New Chief Diversity Officer Kathy Wong(Lau), with the help of facilitator Shawn Spano, a professor of communication studies, continued the Conversations on Campus Climate series that began last spring after the release of the 2015 Campus Climate Survey. The dialogue sessions are open to students, staff, faculty and the general public to discuss the results of the survey as well as their experiences on campus.

“There is a great need to have conversations on our campus,” said President Mary Papazian, at the start of the event. “As you graduate and go off to professional lives, I hope you maintain your commitment to social justice.”

More than 100 people attended the Sept. 29 event with volunteer facilitators assigned to small group discussions in the ballroom while Spano moderated the large group part of the session.

“We want to explore the vision – what kind of university do we want? What culture do we want?” he said.

The event focused on gathering insight into community members’ experiences on campus as well as what they would like to see change. An upcoming November session will center on developing action items to achieve the goal of a more inclusive and welcoming community.

“We want everyone to listen to understand the experiences of others,” stated Spano, who encouraged participants to speak openly and to be respectful of others opinions.

Wong(Lau) shared key findings from the campus climate survey of students (faculty, staff and administrators were also invited to complete the survey), conducted in spring 2015. SJSU’s President’s Office released the results and analysis in fall 2015. According to the survey, half of students who responded reported exposure to discrimination or harassment, primarily hearing an insensitive or intolerant remark by other students.

In small groups, facilitators asked students, faculty, staff and administrators if they were surprised by the findings in the survey and reported some of the thoughts back to the larger group. Some students who were new to campus as freshmen said they were surprised at the findings, but that they felt welcome at SJSU. Others shared personal stories of times they experienced insensitive or intolerant remarks due to a part of their identity.

Wong(Lau) said research shows that intergroup dialogue with thoughtful, cognitive framing can make conflict more productive between groups.

“One of the key things that is important is highly cognitive empathy,” she said. “You need to understand someone’s perspective enough to understand why they might feel the way they do.”

The second Conversation on Campus Climate this semester will be Monday, Nov. 21, from 10 a.m. to noon, in the Diaz Compean Student Union Theater.

October 2016 Newsletter: Video – Diversity University

SJSU student Cotton Stevenson, ’16 MA Intercultural Communications, developed a documentary, “Diversity University,” as a series of personal conversations with people who have been a part of the fabric of SJSU including faculty, staff, students and alumni.The narrative includes reflections of how individuals came to San Jose State and their experiences as part of the Spartan community. The documentary was screened on campus Sept. 26 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library.

October 2016 Newsletter: Faculty Fellows Support PRIDE and MOSAIC Centers

Photo: David Schmitz The MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center engages with a variety of workshops and activities, including an open mic event from fall 2015.

Photo: David Schmitz
The MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center engages with a variety of workshops and activities, including an open mic event from fall 2015.

For the first time this fall, San Jose State University has four faculty members embedded as fellows at the MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center and the PRIDE Center. The faculty members will be working closely with the student populations who are supported by both centers while conducting research to find ways to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment at SJSU.

Erica Boas, an adjunct faculty member in the College of Social Sciences’ Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Department, is one of three faculty members working with MOSAIC Director Hyon Chu Yi-Baker and student diversity advocate interns. The other fellows include Funie Hsu, an assistant professor of American Studies, and Manolo Callahan, a Mexican American Studies professor.

“It’s a great way to work with undergraduates,” Boas said, noting that she appreciates the diversity reflected in the student population at SJSU. “I am looking forward to getting to know the students and working with them on social justice issues and activism.”

Boas’ particular areas of interest include sexuality and race. Each faculty member will work closely with the diversity advocate interns and undertake a research project around diversity.

“There is a lot of potential at this place right now to go deeper and use our centers on campus that fill an authentic need given some of the hate speech that has been overt on campus,” she said. “MOSAIC hopes to create honest, deep discussions around these issues, so people have a place to go to talk about them.”

Boas grew up in “pre-gentrification San Francisco.” As a university student, she was interested in race and sex education, how identity influenced politics and how people live together. Around 37 percent of SJSU students identify as an underrepresented minority (Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino and Native American) and the university was recently ranked as the 14th most racial and ethnically diverse four-year public university in the U.S. by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

“We are meeting with the students twice a week for office hours,” she said. “We are organically getting to know them.”

“It’s very new, but it’s exciting,” said Jenna Edra is a second-year social work student who works at MOSAIC, of the Faculty Fellows program. “They are going to help with the program and diversity advocates.”

In addition to the research, the Fellows will be helping interns to plan workshops for other students at the university. The activities will be posted on the MOSAIC website.

“It’s great being with the students as colleagues, as opposed to being with them as a professor or teacher,” she said, noting that professors set the agenda in their classrooms. “We are meeting the students where they are in an authentic way.”

Stephanie Preston, a counselor in SJSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services department, is a Faculty Fellow at the PRIDE Center. When she became a faculty counselor in 2014, she was encouraged to get to know the cultural centers on campus and she got involved with the Peers in PRIDE program that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students.

Preston is spending eight hours a week at the PRIDE Center where she is continuing to connect with students. But she is also working closely with PRIDE Center Director Bonnie Sugiyama to create a needs assessment for LGBTQ students that will help pinpoint ways to make the campus a more welcoming space.

“The last assessment was conducted in 2008 before there was a PRIDE Center,” she said. “There was only a student group, so it was a very different landscape.”

Sugiyama noted the results of the previous reviews, conducted by a faculty counselor, provided the basis for creating the PRIDE Center and the Peers in PRIDE mentor program.

“We haven’t done another study to see what people’s needs are now – what they are looking for that they don’t see,” Sugiyama said. “It really takes a lot of time to go through the Institutional Review Board (to conduct research), so it’s really helpful to have a faculty fellow dedicated to it.”

Sugiyama indicated the goal is to use the results of the needs survey to create a strategic plan for the campus that will enhance support services for LGBTQ community members. In the American College Health Association’s National College Health Assessment from 2012, about eight percent of SJSU students who responded to the survey identified as gay or lesbian, bisexual, transgender or unsure of their sexual orientation.

While Preston is hard at work developing an assessment tool for the campus survey, she especially enjoys connecting with the students who visit the center.

“I like hanging out and overhearing their conversations,” she said. “I can introduce myself to the students.”

Sugiyama noted it was important to select a Faculty Fellow who has experience with the community.

“People in this community are astute to whether someone knows their issues,” she said. “They need that to feel safe. It helps to have another person to make sure everyone feels welcome and accepted in this space.”

Like the MOSAIC fellows, Preston will also be working with students on programming. She is hoping to create a mixer or event where students can interact with LGBTQ faculty and staff.

“One mission is educating the campus,” she said. “We can make less supportive environments better.”