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Ventura County

Remember Latinos, School Told

Education: CSUCI president gets some tough questions from activists and others.

September 28, 2002|SANDRA MURILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With its hot-pink walls, mismatched furniture and banners promoting social revolution, the Cafe on A Street in downtown Oxnard seemed an unlikely place for a meeting with a college president.

But Thursday night, Cal State Channel Islands President Richard Rush answered some tough questions from dozens of local educators, activists and politicians who had come to air their grievances.

They wanted to know what he was doing to increase the number of Latinos on the school's faculty.

They wanted to know why, in an area where so many high school graduates are Latino, there was no Chicano or Mexican studies department.

And they asked how Latino students from economically disadvantaged families could afford to attend the school without the state Educational Opportunity Program, which offers grants and support services to poor students. Rush did not try to argue about any of the points raised.

He was there, he said repeatedly, to listen, learn and ask for assistance in making the appropriate changes.

"We get a chance to build a university one time, and we don't want to repeat the mistakes that were made in the past," Rush said.

"We have not done well so far. This has now risen to be a priority because we must do much better."

Cal State Channel Islands--Ventura County's first four-year public university--opened its doors last month.

Until then, Ventura County was the largest county in California without a public four-year university.

For years, county residents and officials had lamented the lack of a hometown school, which forced the area's best students to go elsewhere for an education.

Now that they have the school, local residents are asking that the college offer a curriculum that reflects the community.

"We have a brain drain," said Steven Arvizu, former president of Oxnard College. "Our young people leave and don't come back. If they can get an education here, they may never disconnect."

For months, Rodolfo Acuna, a professor of Chicano studies at Cal State Northridge, has been fielding phone calls from educators concerned with the direction the Channel Islands campus is going, he said.

There were not enough locals on the faculty, and many of the Latinos on staff were administrators and not educators, they said. Four out of the 30 full-time professors at Channel Islands are Latino.

"I want a quality education for all students, but I want to ensure that people of my own background have the same opportunity as anyone else," Acuna said.

"I know the system; I know the games they play. At the very beginning is when you make changes, because this is when you set the template."

The informal group of educators and activists from across Ventura County began gathering at the Cafe on A this summer. They figured the time was right to demand change.

"You need to step forward and say the 'M' word," Cal State Northridge professor Jorge Garcia told Rush, " 'Mexican '!"

"Isn't our music, our art, our language, our culture seen as something worthy of academic study?" Garcia asked.

Rush promised to make the hiring of more Latino faculty a priority. He said Chicano studies will be considered for addition to the curriculum.

And money will be found in the school's budget to fund the Educational Opportunity Program, he said. "Tonight I've heard issues of real significance to this community," Rush said. "I think we've agreed to work together on this."

Most in attendance said they hoped the discussion was the birth of change at the school. "This is a good beginning; this is some good dialogue," Garcia said. "We're not going anywhere."

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