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SRJC seeks more Latino faculty, trustees


When Frank Chong took the helm at Santa Rosa Junior College two years ago, Latinos comprised 25percent of the school's student body.

By the end of this year, Latinos will make up 35 percent, Chong said Tuesday, speaking at a luncheon in Santa Rosa attended by dozens of local Latino business and community leaders.

Chong said this demographic will continue to redefine the college community and force the institution to address the lack of diversity on both the board of trustees and among the school's faculty.

"Without diversity, there is no excellence," Chong said, citing a new directive at one of his alma maters, Harvard University. "I grew up disenfranchised. I grew up marginalized. I grew up with people telling me you can't do this and you can't do that."

Chong, the latest speaker to address the growing Latino leadership group known as Los Cien, touched on a broad range of issues concerning the local Latino community.

Aside from the lack of representation among the school's staff and faculty, these included local hiring practices for school construction projects; strategies for improving Latino student success and retention rates; the possibility of a new more accessible college site in the Roseland neighborhood; and ongoing efforts to restore education programs, such as those targeting English learners, lost during recession-era budget cuts.

But it was the subject of representation among faculty and the college board that resonated among many Los Cien members.

Chong said that 51 percent of all new students are Latino. In contrast, only 7.1 percent of the school's faculty was Latino as of fall 2012, according to the school's human resources department. The entire Latino workforce at the campus is similarly only 7.3 percent as of the fall of 2013.

At the meeting, a group of SRJC students disseminated a flier asking the college district to consider changing key electoral "areas" as a way of improving minority representation on the school's board of trustees.

The Sonoma County Junior College District currently has an eight-member board, which has one student board member. Four of the remaining board members are elected in large geographic areas every four years, while three are elected to represent one central district.

The central area, which includes much of urban Santa Rosa, contains a population of 207,132, about three times the population of the other election areas. Candidates vying for the central area compete in an "at-large" election, making it difficult and costly to win, said Robert Edmonds, the board's current student trustee.

Edmonds, who is working on the "re-districting plan" with SRJC students, including Omar Paz Jr., president of the school's student government, said the school should break up the central area into three separate districts.

"There have only been three people of color that have served on the board of trustees in the school's 95 year-history," Edmonds said following Chong's talk.

"The institution doesn't wear the face of the community, necessarily," Edmonds said.

Jordan Burns, a former SRJC student and former student trustee now running for the board's west county-area seat, said at the luncheon that he supports the redistricting changes being proposed.

"The college serves a very diverse community and more diverse representation would benefit that cause," Burns said.

Chong was asked during his talk if he would be open to joining a small group of Latino leaders in discussing the possibility of breaking up the district's central election area.

"Absolutely," he said, adding that he has worked on redistricting issues with the state Legislature in the past.

"I think that it's clearly a social justice issue," he said. "And I invite our board members to participate."

Jeff Kunde, chairman of the college district board, also attended the luncheon. Kunde, an alumnus of the school, said diversity among the faculty is something the board takes very seriously.

"Those are things that we as a board talk about all the time," he said.

Regarding diversity among the school's faculty, Chong said the campus needs to improve the diversity of its part-time hires. He said that 80 percent of all full-time hires come from the school's pool of part-time faculty.

Victor Cummings, dean of language arts, later explained that the school usually relies on a pool of part-time candidates in the North Bay that is less diverse than if they were drawing from the San Francisco Bay Area. The long commute from places like Bay Area discourages some applicants, he said.

"We're just geographically isolated," Cummings said.

Members of the Latino leadership group welcomed Chong's willingness to talk about the redistricting plan. Francisco Vazquez, director of Sonoma State University's Hutchins Institute and a member of Los Cien, said the leadership group should stay on top of issue.

"This is a good chance for Latino leaders to test the ability to flex their muscles," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com.