Update on SJSU’s actions on systemic racism

Dear campus community, 

Last week, I wrote to you about our immediate and longer-term efforts to address systemic racism at San José State.

Among several specific actions we are taking, I indicated that we would create spaces and mechanisms whereby our campus community members can process the often complex issues of racism, listen to one another and seek understanding of the pain that others may be experiencing. I write today to offer an update on the activities that took place this past week.

Meeting with Black Faculty and Staff

Last Friday, I met with more than 90 Black faculty and staff members in an effort to listen and learn about the experiences, insights, thoughts and feelings of our campus’s Black community. The listening session was facilitated by Dean Walt Jacobs of our College of Social Sciences and was the first of several meetings of this nature in which I plan on participating these next few months.

I am very grateful to Dean Jacobs and this entire group of educators for their willingness to speak openly and candidly with me and share their collective and individual experiences. I know that sharing hurtful personal and professional experiences is not always easy. As I listened, I heard the frustration. I heard the pain. I heard the skepticism. I recognized the systemic and patterned nature of what was shared.

But I also heard hope. I also heard a sense of commitment, and a love for the students of SJSU. So, again, thank you to those who participated in this meeting with me. The conversation was a good beginning. 

Meeting with the Leadership of our Cultural Resource Centers

Then, earlier this week, I met with the leaders of SJSU’s Solidarity Network, an affiliation of several campus organizations whose mission is largely focused on enriching student life. The leaders of our Solidarity Network are directors of those centers and initiatives, which all fall under our Division of Student Affairs.

The Solidarity Network team gave a presentation and asked that their leaders be included in our campus-wide efforts to address systemic inequity based on their expertise, connection and daily work with students. Again, my aim was to listen as much as possible.

I came away with a greater recognition of our campus’s underutilization of the professional expertise and knowledge present in the room and elsewhere on campus. This collective wisdom and experience, I firmly believe, can and should inform our practices and policies across the campus. Clearly, there are people on our campus who have been determined to improve equity for our underserved students and have led the effort on the ground. I found this to be inspiring and hopeful, since—as I have noted previously—it will take every member of our community to help us become the fully inclusive, anti-racist organization we wish to be.

Listening to a Community Petition

Finally, I would like to acknowledge a petition I have received, one asking SJSU’s leadership to “invest in structures and resources that humanize and offer dignity to the Black community at SJSU.”

The petition’s signees, which include SJSU faculty, students and staff, are calling for, among other things, reforms to SJSU’s University Police Department, more transparency with our UPD investments and community involvement in our policing activities.

Within the next 30 days, we will be well on our way to creating an advisory board to the University Police Department, one consisting of a diverse and broad set of campus stakeholders. The advisory board will study the overall effectiveness of our UPD operations and strategies.

We will also be taking several measures to address the health and well-being of Black, Indigenous, and Brown members of our community. We will apply a racial equity lens to all of our work to identify and address systemic barriers for Black, Brown, and Indigenous students, staff and faculty, and to create connection and community with an attention to critical mass. 

In his book, How to Be an Antiracist, author Ibram X. Kendi writes, “One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”

We will continue to confront racial inequities at SJSU, through continued learning but also through decisive and structural changes. I will be offering frequent updates on our progress via email announcements and SJSU social media posts, and a new website soon will serve as a clearinghouse for information and resources. Feel free to email me at sjsupres@sjsu.edu with your comments and questions. I am listening.


Dr. Mary A. Papazian