Latest update: SJSU’s actions on systemic racism

Dear campus community,

Last month, I shared some immediate and longer-term action items for SJSU to address systemic racism. Several actions were identified, including steps we would take immediately as well as a number of longer-term efforts.

These actions were developed from our administration’s assessment informed by consultation with a variety of leadership groups across campus including Black staff and faculty, the Solidarity Network campus resource centers, the Executive Committee of the Academic Senate, and other groups who have expressed thoughtful recommendations and requests that support a systemic approach. I write today to report on our progress to date, particularly the actions we have undertaken these past 30 days and thoughts on the future.

Building capacity to work toward racial equity and against anti-Black racism

To complement and enhance the work already taking place in our Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (ODEI), two new roles in the Office of the President will support racial equity efforts at SJSU—with an immediate and near-term focus on anti-Black racism. 

  • A Director of Advocacy for Racial Justice will report into the Community and Government Relations unit. 
  • A Director of Black/African-American Equity and Trainer will report into the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI). 

Task force on safety and policing 

I will be establishing a Task Force on Campus Safety and Policing to study safety and policing at SJSU. This task force will be charged with assessing the concerns about safety and policing on campus, how we might address those concerns and what opportunities we have for moving forward as the safest and most effective urban-based campus in the United States. 

Among other responsibilities, the task force will select an external reviewer to support and guide the work and offer recommendations for reform, such as new models of safety and policing, new training protocols, policy revisions or redistribution of resources. The work is expected to begin in September 2020 and conclude by December 2020.

Co-chairing the task force will be Patrick Day, our vice president of student affairs, and a member of the SJSU faculty or staff. A nomination process for constituting the remainder of the task force has been established and will require, for applicants, a statement of philosophy on campus policing and safety, goals with the position including experience and skills the applicant offers. I will appoint the task force from the pool of submitted nominations in early September. To apply, visit the Google Form.

Management Training on Racial Justice and Workplace Inclusion

Although training on discrimination, harassment and retaliation regulations exists at SJSU, it is not consistently applied across groups. We are committing to more in-depth training requirements for faculty, management and staff that include micro-aggression and anti-bias training specific to campus roles and responsibilities, requirements that will complement the training that has been a part of our SJSU Teach Online Summer Certificate Program 2020 for 1,000 faculty members. 

We also will conduct workshops on white privilege, racial oppression and active listening. Spearheaded by ODEI, we anticipate launching these more robust training modules in August or September. In addition, ODEI will continue its work on consultation and training with campus units. 

Retiring the “Spartan Up” hand gesture

As noted previously, we have retired the use of the “Spartan Up” hand gesture. Though the gesture had become part of the fabric of the Spartan community, we recognized that it also had created conflict and divisions due to its similarity to a gesture promoting white supremacy and used as gang identification. Improper use of the gesture, we have learned, also conveys cultural and gender insensitivity in some countries outside of the United States. 

In addition to ending the active use of the gesture, we have commenced with an audit of all official SJSU-affiliated web pages and digital assets to identify, remove and replace all visual depictions of the gesture. We also have launched an audit of physical locations and materials around our campus—including facilities and buildings, windows, banners, printed items, marketing videos and SJSU Bookstore merchandise—that will require replacement. This will be an ongoing effort due to the sheer number of assets currently in circulation.

A “New Traditions” working group—one that will be represented by students, faculty and staff at SJSU—will be exploring ideas that we anticipate will lead to a strengthening of the Spartan spirit and pride while building upon our important sense of community.

Revitalizing our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

ERGs at SJSU, which began years ago as self-formed “faculty staff associations,” have been an important grassroots resource for historically underrepresented groups.  Current and past associations include the African-American Faculty and Staff Association, Asian-Pacific Islander Faculty Staff Association, Chicano/Latino Faculty and Staff Association, Jewish Faculty and Staff Association, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Faculty and Staff Association. They each have worked to identify and address issues of concern.

Formalizing our support and rededicating ourselves to our ERGs will help to ensure that those groups have the resources, funds and structure they need to be successful and help guide our equity and anti-racism issues. We have now set aside annual funding to help sustain the ERGs’ activities and will work with ERG leadership to develop bylaws, examine leadership structures, develop communication vehicles and create more opportunities for collaboration amongst groups.

We also plan on expanding our ERGs to include additional underrepresented and underserved groups who may wish to form an ERG. ODEI, which is leading the effort, will offer more information and details in the coming months.

I am grateful to our dedicated Black faculty, staff and students as well as to our staff in ODEI — who are working with us as we continue to identify and act on these strategies. I will continue to share more as progress continues to be made on these and other efforts. You will certainly hear more from your divisional leaders as the summer moves forward and we begin the fall semester. 


Dr. Mary A. Papazian