President Robert S. Nelsen, in his 2017 Fall Address to the Sacramento State community, denounced hatred, celebrated a student hero, and announced a fifth imperative for the University: safety.
Nelsen made his remarks to more than 1,200 students, faculty, and staff gathered Thursday, Aug. 24, in the University Union Ballroom. His theme was “From Transition to Transformation: The Year in Motion.”
The president began by introducing first-year student Shannon Swanson, who read aloud a letter of solidarity that 21 Sac State freshmen tweeted out to the University of Virginia’s Class of 2021 following the Aug. 12 racial violence in Charlottesville.
“In the wake of recent events occurring in Charlottesville,” Swanson read, “a group of Sacramento State’s Class of 2021 reaches out to you in hopes of inspiring unity, acceptance, and encouragement in the face of such turmoil. At this critical moment in all of our lives, it is more important than ever to stand up for what is right, stand up against racism, stand up against ignorance, and stand up against outright hatred.”
In response, Nelsen declared Sac State a hate-free campus.
“The actions of the white supremacists and nationalists were a demonstration of cowardice, not patriotism,” he said. “Each of us shares the responsibility of speaking out against what happened there. We have to denounce racism, anti-Semitism, and white supremacy.”
Nelsen noted that the day before the unrest, alumnus Daniel Hahn ’95 (Marketing) – Sacramento’s first African American police chief – was sworn in before hundreds of supporters in the University Union Ballroom. Hahn wore a “Made at Sac State” pin on his uniform for the ceremony.
“We witnessed the power of a Sacramento State education and of love,” Nelsen said.
He went on to introduce Wil Stewart, a paramedic student in the College of Continuing Education who recently performed the Heimlich maneuver on a choking man in a San Luis Obispo coffee shop. Stewart was on his way to an internship interview when he noticed that the man was in distress. Stewart neglected to mention in the interview that he had just saved a life. He got the job anyway.
The crowd gave standing ovations to Stewart and Swanson.
Nelsen elaborated on how Sacramento State is being transformed, including:
- Outgrowing its reputation as “a commuter college” and becoming a destination university.
- Constructing the Science Complex, the first new academic building since 2005. The formal groundbreaking is Sept. 18.
- Hiring 80 new faculty annually (versus just 20 or so in the past), with more than 60 percent of them women and 40 percent people of color.
- Lowering from 56 percent to 15 percent the number of students taking remedial/developmental courses.
- Building a 1,750-space parking garage, which will open in January 2018.
“To quote my fourth-favorite philosopher (Bob Dylan),” Nelsen said, “ ‘The times, they are a’changin’.’ ”
He also provided updates on the four campus imperatives he introduced a year ago.
- The Graduation Initiative: 84 percent of new students pledged to take 15 credits a semester (up from 64 percent last year). The four-year graduation rate has increased from 8 percent to 12 percent in just one year, a 36 percent improvement. The six-year graduation rate is nearly 49 percent, and the two-year rate for transfer students is 32 percent, both significant improvements. In addition, Sac State has eliminated non-credit remediation math courses.
- Diversity: The Office of Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity is fully functional and will roll out a “climate survey.” In addition, some administrators, faculty, staff, and student leaders have received unconscious bias training.
- Philanthropy: The University is in the midst of raising $20 million for the new Science Complex and is doubling the number of student scholarships. Sac State raised $26.1 million last year. That’s $8 million more than the year before, almost double the amount from two years ago.
- Community and Civic Involvement: The Community Engagement and Transgender Inclusion Task Force continues its work. Sacramento State Downtown is moving forward under the leadership of Vice President Phil Garcia.
And Nelsen announced that campus safety is the fifth imperative, prompted in part by the discoveries of lead dust in Santa Clara Hall, elevated lead levels in 43 drinking sources, and a chemical spill in a science lab. As a result, the search is on for a Laboratory Safety Officer, and a third-party expert will be brought in to test three additional drinking fountains that Professor Jeffery Foran and his Environmental Studies students found this summer to have elevated lead levels. (The three drinking fountains have been turned off.)
In addition, the University will spend nearly $1 million to install fire alarms and sprinklers in the University Union. And, like all campuses in the California State University (CSU), Sac State will work toward becoming tobacco- and smoke-free, starting Sept. 1.
In closing, Nelsen returned to the racially charged incidents in Charlottesville:
“We are a Hornet Family, and I ask that we stand together against hate that has no place in our country. We are stronger together. … We will continue to make inclusion a priority and to celebrate our diverse community. … We can and will transform our campus, our students, and ourselves. We will denounce hatred, bigotry, name-calling, and violence. But we will do more than just denounce: We will transform.”
Nelsen ended his address with a “Stingers up!” salute, and the crowd gave him a standing ovation. – Dixie Reid