Cal State Bakersfield has made it a primary goal to show that higher education is diverse, accessible and welcoming to all students, especially students of color. 

Over the course of the last few years, a number of programs or initiatives at CSUB have taken charge of focusing on students of color, their academic success and future career goals. Following the death of George Floyd and conversations taking place nationwide and locally relating to social justice and equity, the university has placed more emphasis on making even more opportunities available to students.

Some programs try to target students while they're in high school. CSUB's Department of Teacher Education has been partnering with the Kern High School District’s Project BEST, or Black Excellence in Scholarship and Teaching, to encourage young Black men to consider education as a career path.

Annually, the university hosts a conference where local Black educators and administrators meet with high schoolers and share their career experiences.

In Kern County, out of 15,765 total teachers, there are 325 Black male educators in public schools, or 2 percent, according to data from this year's conference.

David Sandles, a CSUB professor who heads the conference, hopes to hold more events in addition to the annual gathering, as well as reach students in elementary and middle schools. 

"If we capture their attention early, the prospect is greater," Sandles explained.

Aside from encouraging students to look toward education career paths, the university has connected with younger students of color through its Conference for Budding Leaders. 

Markel Quarles, assistant vice president of student affairs, explained that the two-day conference provides high school freshmen with various resources related to applying to college or developing good study skills. The freshmen also meet with CSUB faculty or current students, who can mentor them throughout their high school years.

The first conference was held last summer, but already Quarles has seen its benefits for both students and mentors.

"As the conference is wrapping up, (the freshmen) say the experience was positive and they learned a lot," he explained.

For CSUB students who meet with high schoolers, they still engage with the students. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Quarles said many university students would attend high school games to cheer on their freshman pals.

Quarles is also involved with the Young Males of Color Consortium, a California State University system initiative focused on improving degree completion for male students of color.

Many of these students face struggles with financial aid, balancing work and school, and the pressure of being a first-generation college student. Often, many choose not to continue pursuing a degree after their first year.

"It can be tough, navigating the college experience can be hard," Quarles said, especially if a student doesn't have anyone to talk to at home about higher education.

The Excel Scholars program launched this past academic year, and Quarles said 42 percent of freshman students received a 3.0 GPA or higher. 

Plenty of other programs or initiatives are currently in the planning process.

Provost Vernon Harper has proposed the development of new degree programs — such as Latinx studies, African American studies and Asian studies — to "better reflect the communities" the university serves, learn about various cultures and bring in more diverse faculty.

Currently, there are a number of ethnic courses available that are spread across a variety of disciplines and minors, but no full degree programs. 

The provost added the university is investing resources toward a center for social justice on campus. During this COVID-19 era, a virtual center is currently being developed. It's one way for the campus to recognize that "social justice is important to a free and democratic society," Harper explained.

A website should be launched soon.

An effort to reach out to graduates and form a Black Alumni Association is what Sandles is also focusing on. He hopes the association would link current and former students together, which could help secure internships and mentorships. It would also be a way for the university to strengthen relationships with the community, and for alumni to still feel connected with their alma mater.

Sandles is also looking to launch a series of video interviews with Black faculty and staff members to introduce them to the campus community.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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