A Legacy of Leadership: 1990s

Ground breaking for the SDSU Student Activity Center in 1995

by Leonardo Castaneda

On May 13, 1998, Associated Students President Carlos Razo passed the gavel to his successor, the same way presidents had transferred leadership since DeWitt B. Mott handed the presidency to Wilbert Anderson in 1922.

The only difference between that first passing of the torch to the one in 1998 was that for the first time in A.S. history, the recipient was a Latina woman—Celinda Vázquez. By the time she reached the highest elected position in A.S., Vázquez had already served three years on the A.S. council, the last of which was as the vice president of external affairs. During her swearing in, she emphasized three words: “defend student rights.” Today Vázquez is the director of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Los Angeles and Planned Parenthood Advocacy Project Los Angeles County.

Student rights and unprecedented diversity became the centerpiece of the 1990s at San Diego State. All of that was accomplished with the unparalleled leadership of many dedicated students. State Senator Ricardo Lara spoke with KPBS in a special interview where he described the roles student organizations such as the African American Student Union played in increasing diversity on campus and encouraging underserved high school students to attend SDSU.

For Lara, that avenue for leadership was provided by the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán. In 1996, Lara was elected as a representative from the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts to the A.S. council, serving alongside Vázquez, who at the time was the representative from the College of Health and Human Services.

In 1997, with the support of SDSU President Stephen Weber, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Student Union began planning to create the first LGBT resource center in a California State University campus. Funding was a challenge, but in 1999 A.S. Executive Director Dan Cornthwaite continued to support the goal of a resource center.

“We want to make it a center of excellence to further issues important to us all,” Cornthwaite was quoted at the time by The Daily Aztec.

That leadership has carried to this day, with the LGBTQ Pride Center, a variety of LGBT student groups, Greek organizations, outreach and alumni programs.

Even as new dreams of space and resources for the growing diversity on campus are born, an older dream finally began to come together. On March 27, 1995 A.S. President Cesar Padilla, A.S. Executive Director Dan Cornthwaite and SDSU President Thomas B. Day broke ground with the new Student Activity Center. The SAC is now known as the Aztec Recreation Center and Viejas Arena, but then it was just “a dream come true,” as Padilla called it during the event. The possibilities seemed endless for the SAC as it had faced a long road to voter endorsement, with multiple rejected referendums, and a years of wait from fee approval to the start of construction.

“(The SAC) will provide them with opportunities to excel in physical ways which will compliment the academic efforts they will make in the classroom, laboratories and library,” Day was quoted by The Daily Aztec.

Today, it’s hard to imagine SDSU without a diverse student body with individuals in leadership positions of all backgrounds, as well as services and resources available to meet a wide variety of student needs. However, it’s also hard to imagine the campus without basketball games, concerts at Viejas Arena or the health and fitness options provided by the ARC. All of those things slowly came to fruition through the dedication and leadership of students, faculty and staff.

Photo courtesy of SDSU Library Archives