Over 490,000 students are enrolled in the CSU system, and for the first time in the history of the board that governs it, one of the students chosen to represent all those voices will be from Cal State Bakersfield.
Krystal Raynes, a 21-year-old senior at CSUB, was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to the California State University Board of Trustees last week. The CSU system, with its 23 campuses, is the largest four-year public university system in the country, and the Board of Trustees votes on everything from budgets to buildings to curriculum. Raynes is one of two students on the board who will serve a two-year term.
It’s a momentous appointment not just for Raynes but for the region. CSUB President Lynnette Zelezny says Raynes will be a fierce advocate for the university and Central Valley.
“It’s absolutely huge for us,” Zelezny said. “She’ll talk about access with passion. She’ll talk about keeping it affordable. She’ll talk with great seriousness about the return on investment that a degree can bring.”
Raynes is an Independence High School graduate whose interest in policy was sparked when she joined forensics and debate. But her passion for the CSU system comes from her own history with it. She calls CSUB a “blessing.”
In high school, Raynes was elated to get into Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, only to discover that she wouldn’t be able to afford it if she at some point needed to declare herself financially independent. With a “tough” home life, that seemed like a possibility.
She didn’t want to graduate with debt.
But Raynes discovered that she could make it financially work at CSUB — and, crucially, the university let her in just past the deadline.
Raynes’ freshman year was hard. She ran away from home, struggled to find adequate housing and food, and she successfully declared her financial independence from her family. She says she has begun to repair some of the relationships in her family, but says she speaks about her own struggles, because she knows many college students are in the same boat.
“She’s able to help show the power of a story,” said Ilaria Pesco, the executive director, Associated Students Inc. at CSUB. “She’s willing to share her story and say, ‘Let me share mine and show you.’”
Pesco says Raynes is a good representative of what a CSUB student looks like: she’s from the Valley, she’s a Filipina who comes from a family of immigrants, she wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford higher education and she has struggled with food and housing.
“Krystal is fearless when it comes to advocating,” said Pesco.
Raynes made her mark on the student government by starting a CSUB chapter of Lobby Corps, which trains students to advocate for their own needs in the CSU system. Raynes said she would collect stories to share with lawmakers. Sometimes those stories might deal with sensitive topics, and require anonymity from students who are undocumented or LGBT. This summer they lobbied House Rep. Kevin McCarthy to push back against a Trump rule, later rescinded, that would bar international students from returning to the United States.
“It gives you the perspective of how much one voice matters — and it just takes one,” she said.
Orientation starts Wednesday, and her first meeting at the California State University Board of Trustees will be Sept. 22-23. A shrinking state budget in the wake of a COVID economy and retooling higher education for distance learning are just two of the issues the trustees will have to ponder on top of the usual issues.
“(The governor) is not likely to be able to expand our budget, but it is up to the trustees to advocate as much for a recovery budget as possible. Otherwise the state will falter in having the workforce it needs,” President Zelezny said.
Raynes says she has three priorities as a trustee. She wants to make sure that education continues to be high-quality, despite the constraints of distance learning. She wants to ensure students’ basic needs are met, including from a technological standpoint. She also wants to make sure that students are able to not only get into the CSU system but stay in and graduate, particularly Black men who have low retention rates.
All of these are issues that students across the CSU system struggle with, but she says the needs of students in the Central Valley are particularly acute. She knows students who are shouldering their parents’ bills or who find Bakersfield College unaffordable.
Aaron Wan, the ASI president for CSUB last year, said the student government put a lot of its effort into pushing Raynes forward so she would be able to speak to these issues, and they feel like it’s paid off.
“It gives us leverage, it’s voting power,” Wan said. “I believe we’re spearheading things for the CSU system.”