Juneteenth Commemoration and SJSU’s Actions on Systemic Racism

Dear campus community,

Tomorrow is Juneteenth, a day that for more than 150 years has commemorated the end of slavery in this country. It is a day when African American families and communities celebrate culture, strength, and perseverance. I encourage SJSU managers and supervisors to accommodate employees who wish to take part in community, faith-based or private family gatherings that honor Juneteenth. 

But Juneteenth is also a somber reminder that our history of slavery has produced inequities that exist today. Juneteenth should prompt all of us to reflect on the urgent need for racial justice and the need for systemic change on anti-Black racism. 

I call on every member of this community to help San José State become the fully inclusive, anti-racist, multi-cultural organization to which it aspires. This means acting decisively and intentionally on a number of different fronts at the same time, all of which are important in meeting the needs of our community members.

At this moment, we are structuring our efforts around the following principles:  

  1. Creating space for processing, listening and deep understanding
  2. Taking immediate actions to address institutional racism at SJSU
  3. Implementing long-term strategies to change policies and practices at the root of institutional and systemic racism.

In the next 30 days:

  • We will create mechanisms to support grassroots efforts to organize activities that fit with the above principles.
  • We will retire the use of the “Spartan Up” hand gesture, a recent addition to SJSU’s traditions, which, if done incorrectly, resembles what has become a well-known White Power hand gesture. A New Traditions working group represented by students, faculty and staff will explore and recommend new traditions to further strengthen our Spartan spirit. 
  • We will create an advisory board—one with a broad and diverse membership reflecting the breadth of our campus community—to begin a deep-dive with our University Police Department into the effectiveness of overall operations including policies, protocols and community engagement strategies. 

We also will begin the process of addressing the following:

  • Remedying SJSU’s incomplete representation of the legacy of two of the world’s most celebrated Black athletes and activists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They were, in fact, subjected to serious racist discrimination upon their return from the 1968 Olympic Games, a fact not well acknowledged. 
  • Developing a physical display and interactive environment that explores SJSU’s complex history with race in an authentic and honest way. 
  • Working with the California State University Chancellor’s Office to broaden our recruitment to areas where more underrepresented students, in particular Black students, may benefit from an SJSU education. 
  • Adding new strategies in faculty hiring—tenure/tenure-track cluster hires and focused full-time lecturer positions in fields of expertise (e.g., underrepresented communities  business development)—to increase the number of Black faculty on campus. 
  • Applying a racial equity lens to the evaluation and review processes for our faculty and staff-hiring practices, as well as SJSU’s endowments, scholarships and other funding mechanisms. We will similarly evaluate capacity and resources for expanding and improving our current mentoring activities and leadership opportunities particularly for our Black and African American stakeholders. 
  • Expanding and enhancing our training requirements for SJSU staff and management, offering four-week modules on micro-aggression, anti-bias training specific to roles and responsibilities, and workshops on white privilege, racial oppression and active listening, beginning in July or August. 
  • Developing a grant process to support academic research on the intersections of health and race. This process will further support the research many of our talented and committed faculty members are doing, while infusing new areas of research in a topic that is crucial for our students and community.  

Soon, we will unveil a new website—to be housed on the Office of the President website—where we will provide updates and dashboards for visitors to track our activities and progress. There, we also will  provide a mechanism for campus community members to provide input, ideas, and feedback. And, I will continue to offer periodic updates by email as our plans and actions unfold. 

I want to emphasize that this is only the beginning, not the end, of our focus on addressing systemic racism at San José State University. Our work will not conclude when the current protests and demonstrations happening nationwide have subsided. We will lead—with our educational practices, recruitment and retention efforts, investments and funding decisions, and, most importantly, with our actions. 


Dr. Mary A. Papazian