Discriminatory policy only recruits Christian students

by Kenneth Leonard


he California State University system is trying to help more black students pursue a college education. However, its methods are problematic, at best.

Last Sunday, the seventh annual CSU Super Sunday campaign began at Saint Rest Baptist Church in Fresno. CSU leaders will give presentations at more than 100 predominantly black churches throughout the state this month, including 37 in Southern California.

The program is intended to show potential students that earning a college degree is an achievable goal, and to encourage them to take the first steps toward higher education.

“We tell them real early, in elementary school and in high school. Prepare for the day that you can go to college, so then it’s your choice,” CSU Trustee Peter Mehas, who spoke at the kickoff event in Fresno, said.

Many of the students who come from these churches are first-generation college students whose parents may not be equipped to enable their children to succeed in college without assistance from mentorship programs.

“We’re trying to bridge that knowledge gap and equip influencers with information,” CSU Media Relations Specialist Erik Fallis said

Super Sunday is just one facet of the larger CSU African American Initiative. The program provides services that detail what students need to do to get to college.

“Super Sunday gets the message to the community in a unique way,” Fallis said.

So far, so good, right? Not exactly. Granted, the program appears to have the best of intentions and has arguably been effective because black-student enrollment has increased since the program began under the administration of Chancellor Emeritus Charles B. Reed. However, it’s a fundamentally discriminatory program that needs to be scrapped immediately in favor of a better model. Furthermore, the upward trend in black graduates from the CSU system commenced seven years before Super Sunday began.

“The 30 percent increase in degrees conferred to African-American statistic is actually tied to Reed’s entire tenure, stretching back to when he started in 1998,” Fallis said.

The biggest problem with Super Sunday is a major indirect consequence of this program. Namely, by focusing strictly on Christian denominations, qualified black students who belong to non-Christian religions—not to mention those who aren’t religious at all—don’t receive the same attention and opportunities. Super Sunday takes place in predominantly Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal churches throughout the state. Among the Super Sunday venues listed on calstate.edu, 39 of the churches fall into these two categories and the rest are assorted Christian churches. So, the program may be described, technically, as multidenominational, for Christian denominations.

There is not a single synagogue or mosque listed among event locations for Super Sunday. If there were, the implications wouldn’t be quite as bad. The CSU would merely be favoring religious students more than nonreligious ones. As things currently stand, the cornerstone program of the CSU African American Initiative specifically favors potential students from one specific religion.

Obviously, arguments could be made that Super Sunday subtly conflicts with the idea of separation of church and state. The fact that state-funded institutions of education are using churches as a recruiting ground for potential students who fall into one highly specific ethnic category should be raising red flags all across the place, but the program has existed without apparent impedance for more than half a decade.

There are certainly other, superior ways to recruit minority students.

A great model for targeting minority students already exists in the CSU system. The CSU Hispanic Partnerships Initiative, which has a more diverse assemblage of outreach programs, none of which involve targeting students with particular religious beliefs or excluding students without certain religious affiliations.

The Hispanic Partnerships Initiative employs a multifaceted approach to engaging Latino students, using partnerships with organizations such as the Parent Institute for Quality Education, American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education, Univision Education Advisory Committee, La Opinion and the White House Initiative on Education Excellence for Hispanic Americans. Through the Hispanic Partnerships Initiative, the CSU system already proved the effectiveness of secular partnerships in targeting minority students. Many of these Latino students are also first-time students facing similar obstacles as their black classmates. Programs, such as Hispanic Partnerships Initiative, prove there is simply no reason to target a narrow portion of a particular minority group that happens to share religious ideology when it’s possible to reach out to an entire community through completely secular partnerships.

In all fairness, there is one secular activity in the CSU African American Initiative. The Super Saturday event is a college fair where the 23 CSU campuses provide information and workshops about topics, such as the CSU application and admission process, financial aid and campus life. However, literally every other aspect of the African American Initiative is directly tied to African Methodist Episcopal, Baptist and Christian organizations. Even the biannual policy makers briefings, which are hosted by CSU presidents and the chancellor, are centered around briefing black pastors and “faith-based leaders” who operate in California. These briefings are intended “to solidify the partnerships that support the African American Initiative,” according to calstate.edu.

At the end of the day, the CSU system can’t afford to allow the Super Sunday program to continue. At best, it’s an unethical and feeble attempt to reach out to minority students. Essentially, it’s a poor attempt at doing a good thing.

Here’s an idea: Ditch the churches and focus on reaching out to schools with a high concentration of black students. None of the kids in those schools should miss out on opportunities because they don’t happen to be one of the lucky kids attending the “right” church.