Addressing racial injustice at CSUMB Black faculty joins nationwide Scholar Strike

Exterior mural at CSUMB Humanities Building | Joe Livernois photo

By Charlotte West

Faculty at California State University Monterey Bay joined colleagues around the country on Sept. 8 and 9 for Scholar Strike, two days of action focused on educating campus communities about racial injustice, policing and racism in the United States. Thousands of faculty nationwide, including those at other local institutions such as University of California Santa Cruz, are also participating. 

Because CSU faculty are part of a union, they are not calling for a work stoppage this week. “What we are doing instead is standing in solidarity with our brothers and sisters from across the country,” said Vanessa Lopez-Littleton, a professor of health, human services, and public policy and president of the CSUMB chapter of the California Faculty Association. “We want to make sure that we’re part of this national movement to engage scholars in the Black Lives Matter movement.”


Vanessa Lopez-Littleton

Lopez-Littleton and other Black faculty at CSUMB planned a virtual teach-in on Wednesday that featured scholars from various disciplines presenting during a Day of Action for Racial Justice. Topics include street art and social justice, resiliency as a constant, benefits of addressing anti-Black racism for individual and collective well-being, dismantling systemic racism, and making/erasing Africana religions. The Otter Cross Cultural Center also hosted a dialogue on  the 2020 election and a closed evening event with Ibram X. Kendi, scholar and best-selling author of “How to Be an Anti-Racist.”

“We are giving our campus an opportunity to engage across a broad swath of topics and opportunities but still focus on racial justice,” Lopez-Littleton said. 

The Scholar Strike movement was inspired by protests by athletes such as Colin Kaepernick and the recent NBA and WNBA strikes. It was born from a tweet by Anthea Butler, a religious studies professor at the University of Pennsylvania. In an op-ed for CNN, Butler and her co-organizer, historian Kevin Gannon, described Scholar Strike as “a movement designed to bring recognition to the mounting numbers of deaths of African Americans and others by excessive use of violence and force by police.”

“Our students should see themselves represented on the campus and should feel supported by faculty and staff who are dedicated to their advancement.”

Last week the CFA, which is made up of faculty across CSU’s 23 campuses, issued a statement in support of the Scholar Strike. The two-day movement is the latest iteration of conversations about race, anti-Black racism, and police brutality that are happening at local institutions and on campuses across California and the United States. 

The statewide faculty association also released a list of anti-racism and social justice demands in the wake of the murder of George Floyd at the end of May. The demands included upholding rights to protest anti-Black racism, defunding and removing armed police from campuses, and support for AB 1460, a bill that required all CSU undergraduates to take at least one ethnic studies course focused on on African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino/a Americans and Native Americans. (Governor Newsom signed the bill into law in mid-August). CFA also called on the CSU system to provide free tuition for all Black, Native, and Indigenous students and join advocacy efforts to support Proposition 16, a ballot measure that will overturn California’s ban on affirmative action in hiring and college admissions.  

Following the call to action from CFA, Black faculty at CSUMB wrote a letter of 10 demands to president Eduardo M. Ochoa and other senior leaders.  

“We are dismayed by the lack of direct actions presented on behalf of our campus leadership to move beyond merely recognizing systemic racism to investing in a strategic approach to dismantling racist policies and practices,” they wrote. “At this point, we are not confident that this administration has done everything within its power to address the concerns presented by Black faculty, staff, and students.”

Some of the faculty’s demands focus on equitable hiring practices for faculty and staff, especially in the promotion and tenure process. According to data from CFA, 16 CSUMB faculty, or 3.1 percent of all full- and part-time professors, were Black as of fall 2019. For the CSU system as a whole, 1,330 out of the 29,407 faculty members, or 4.5 percent, were Black. 

“When you look across the 23 campuses, how many people of color do you see at the presidential level? And how many provosts, how many deans?” Lopez-Littleton said.  “We need to develop systems where it’s not an anomaly to have a Black president or Black provost. And right now, that’s not the system that exists.”

Lopez-Littleton said that the CSUMB administration immediately responded to the letter and scheduled a series of  conversations with faculty and leadership. “What our movement looks like is not us (Black faculty) doing all of the action,” she said. “But we’re doing some work because we have to prepare the campus for the road ahead. Then at the same time, we need our leaders to lead and have community conversations with the entire campus about these issues.” 

One of the items in the letter was funding and support for the newly created Center for Black Student Success at CSUMB. “Our students should see themselves represented on the campus and should feel supported by faculty and staff who are dedicated to their advancement,” according to the letter. 

One of the goals of the new center is to support recruitment and retention of Black students, who have seen declining enrollment at CSUMB over the last several years. Between the 2016-2017 and 2019-2020 academic years, enrollment of Black undergraduates fell from 6.5 percent to 4.3 percent. In fall 2019, there were only 36 Black first-time, first-year students enrolling at CSUMB. 

While the proportion of Black students at CSUMB is higher than the Black population in Monterey County, it is less than the city where CSUMB is located. Around 7.3 percent of the population of Seaside, where CSUMB is situated on the former Fort Ord, is Black. After WWII, Seaside had an influx of African American families who came to Monterey County because of the military base. In 1980, almost 30 percent of Seaside’s residents were Black.

Lopez-Littleton is clear that the Scholar Strike is only one part of a much larger call to address racial injustices at CSUMB. “For us on our campus, we are looking for sustained action,” Lopez-Littleton said.

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Charlotte West

About Charlotte West

Charlotte West is a freelance journalist who covers education, criminal justice, housing, and politics. She is a member of the Education Writers Association and was a 2019 Kiplinger Fellow.