As part of his tour of the California State University (CSU) system’s 23 campuses, Chancellor Joseph I. Castro visited CSUN on Dec. 2, meeting with university leaders, students, faculty and staff.
Throughout 2021 and beyond, Castro is visiting the campuses — virtually and in person — to meet with and listen to the communities that each campus serves, in order to learn more about the university’s unique strengths, opportunities and needs.
When he took the helm of the nation’s largest four-year university system in January, Castro became the first-ever California native and Mexican American to lead the CSU. He succeeded Chancellor Timothy P. White, who retired after leading the CSU since 2012. Prior to taking the helm of the CSU, Castro had served as the president of Fresno State since 2013.
In a marathon visit at CSUN, the chancellor had an opportunity to explore the university’s research partnership program with NASA, meet with student government leaders and even tour the future site of the newly launched Global Hispanic Serving Institution Equity Innovation Hub.
In an open forum for the CSUN community, held at the University Student Union Northridge Center, CSUN President Erika D. Beck warmly welcomed Castro to campus.
“Dr. Castro is the grandson of immigrants from Mexico and the son of a single mother, and he was the first in his family to earn a degree from a university — like so many of our CSUN students and our students throughout the CSU,” Beck said. “He is a renowned scholar in the fields of leadership and public policy and has mentored hundreds of scholars and practitioners, including many university presidents — including yours truly — and senior leaders and officers at universities around the country. Thank you, Chancellor Castro, for joining us today. We’re so happy to have you.”
Beck also welcomed Castro’s team from the Chancellor’s Office, which included Lori Redfearn, assistant vice chancellor for Systemwide Advancement, and Sylvia Alva, executive vice chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs and former dean of CSUN’s College of Health and Human Development.
The open forum was moderated by William Watkins, CSUN’s vice president for Student Affairs and dean of students, and Yan Searcy, dean of CSUN’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. They posed questions that had been submitted in advance by students, faculty and staff. Topics included the chancellor’s top priorities, coping with the pandemic, supporting students’ basic needs and closing equity gaps.
“I think that my lived experience as being a first-generation college graduate helps me in this job, because I want to make sure that we remove barriers to support our students,” Castro said. “I want to use my listening skills that I learned from my grandparents, so that I can understand the different challenges we face and then come up with creative solutions to address those challenges.”
Castro has previously reflected on his upbringing in the agricultural town of Hanford, in the San Joaquin Valley. As a first-generation and Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) student at UC Berkeley, his background is similar to that of many CSUN students. That “transformational experience” during his undergraduate years is what inspired his career path in higher education policy and leadership, he said.
The chancellor noted that he wants to prioritize celebrating the diversity of the CSU’s students, faculty and staff, as well as closing equity gaps and increasing graduation rates for underrepresented students.
“Over the last year, in the conversations I’m having with legislators, board members and donors, the equity lens is becoming much more prominent,” Castro said. “I’ve seen that here [at CSUN], and I know that’s in Dr. Beck’s heart and soul and her leadership philosophy. I know that’s going to continue to happen here, and that needs to happen in an even more significant way across the CSU. I’m going to try to support that as chancellor.”
In the afternoon, Castro met with more than a dozen Associated Students (AS) leaders, including AS President Jonathan Hay and AS Vice President Kaitlyn Orozco. The student government leaders discussed a number of issues with the chancellor, including how to better support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students, attract more diverse faculty and support students who are parents.
The CSU is home to approximately 482,000 students, and 53,000 faculty and staff. As he wrapped up the open forum at midday, Castro spoke about his excitement for the future of the CSU and the inspiration he drew from his tour of CSUN.
“We have such a strong university that is so consequential for our country and our world,” Castro said. “We prepare a new generation of bold leaders, and I can’t think of a more inspirational mission than that.
“We get to serve these incredibly talented students and help them become part of the next generation of leaders,” he said. “They teach us a lot along the way, and we grow together. Thank you so much for everything that you’re doing here. I’m excited about the future. Go, Matadors!”