Hope Rising

Hope Rising

Over the last academic year, we have seen the inequities in our society and on our campus intensify as the pandemic swept across our communities. It seems that there is now a light at the end of the COVID tunnel -- perhaps even hope. Hope is so important. It represents a feeling that makes people optimistic for the future, and functions as a motivational force helping people to better cope with anxiety and stress. Hope enables empowerment, which spurs confidence and action. Hope roots people in reality yet impels them to set and achieve goals.

Hope also unites people and builds communities. In any group, individuals facing shared challenges or setbacks can endure in hope through showing acceptance, buoying one another’s spirits, and seeing the potential for good. It was with these intentions that I called our college faculty and staff together at the end of the spring semester to read three books about higher education. I made this request knowing that we are weary and in need of time and space for recovery, and the community response was engagement. That makes me hopeful about the strength of the College community, despite the nearly 16 months we’ve been virtual.

This month, several annual observances occur that recognize the tribulations of historically marginalized groups that have relied on hope, persistence, and community to get them through difficult times. These include LGBTQ+ Pride Month, Immigrant Heritage Month, and Juneteenth.    

LGBTQ+ Rights Are Human Rights

It is estimated that one in ten people identify as LGBTQ+. A recent Gallup poll reveals 5.6% of American adults identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, a rise of more than one percentage point from a previous Gallup poll from 2017. Of those included in this category, nearly 55% consider themselves bisexual, and one out of six “Generation Z” members aged 18 or over identify as a member of this community. This data demonstrates that we are experiencing a shift in societal norms.

During contemporary US history, intolerant attitudes toward gays and lesbians throughout the 1950s prevented them from finding government work during the Cold War era. Congress and President Dwight D. Eisenhower labeled gays and lesbians national “security risks.” At this time, courts and medical authorities considered the behavior of lesbians and gay men “criminal,” putting them in peril of going to jail, losing custody of their children, getting placed in a psychiatric institution, or being the target of violent, homophobic hate. 

The Stonewall Riots in 1969 marked a turning point for gay communities. The initial riot and its subsequent protests inspired activists across the U.S. to create organizations like PFLAG (Parents, Families, & Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) that seek to outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ+ people. In 1970, thousands marched in Manhattan to commemorate the riots during the nation’s first gay pride parade, providing support and acceptance for gays, lesbians, transvestites, and transgender individuals. These parades sprouted across the country in the following decades and eventually led Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to respectively proclaim June “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month” and “LGBT Pride Month.”

In spite of these recognitions— and greater support of equal treatment and rights for LGBTQ+ Americans— LGBTQ+-identified individuals still experience prejudice in public places, universities, and at work, which impact their psychological and economic security. According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF), 20% of college students fear for their physical safety due to their gender identity or their perceived sexual orientation. The study also found that 29% of students did not feel that their curriculum adequately represents the contributions of LGBT individuals. However, the number of centers and academic programs focused on these communities has grown over time. At Cal Lu, we have a Women and Gender Studies minor, and offer courses like Queer Theology and the Psychology of Sex and Gender.

An Immigrant Nation

Immigrants have been a part of the American story for more than 500 years. Over that time immigrants have contributed to US growth and success across politics, industry, and the arts.  

 Prominent foreign-born American citizens include:

●     Jeans maker Levi Strauss

●     Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Representatives Pramila Jayapal and Ilhan Omar

●     Authors Isabel Allende and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

●     Business leaders Sundar Pichai (Alphabet); Satya Nadella (Microsoft); and Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo)

●     Actors Salma Hayek, Sofía Vergara, Charlize Theron, and Kumail Nanjiani

●     The Supermodel Iman Abdulmajid (a.k.a. Iman)

●     Painters Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and Joseph Stella

Immigrants leave their homelands, often reluctantly, to pursue liberty and opportunity in the US. Motivated by a desire to thrive, immigrants often bring with them both vitality and innovation. According to one study, immigrants or their children have founded more than 44% of the nation’s Fortune 500 companies with 101 of those firms launched by newcomers to the U.S.

The Pew Research Center states that our country has more immigrants than any other nation, representing nearly 20% of the world’s migrants. In 2018, the nation’s foreign-born population soared to about 45 million constituting almost 14% of the U.S. population.

Regardless of where they were born, many who migrated to the U.S. often faced persecution due to their physical appearance, religious beliefs, or language differences. At times, the US-born population has perceived immigrants as unwelcome work competition and sources of lower wages. During World War II, the government saw Japanese-Americans as a national threat and placed nearly 120,000 of them in “relocation centers” mostly in the Western States.  It is estimated that one million US citizens of Mexican descent were “repatriated” by the US government between 1929 and 1936.

Immigrant discrimination persists today, and one form is incendiary rhetoric. Examples include references to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” and undocumented individuals as “illegals.” These phrases dehumanize people and can make them subject to shame, ridicule, or acts of violence. This kind of thinking stands counter to the mission of California Lutheran University, and so it is important to call it out.

About Juneteenth

“Juneteenth,” an abbreviation for “June Nineteenth,” commemorates June 19, 1865, the day when Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas to announce freedom for those enduring the harsh realities of slavery. It occurred more than two years following the Emancipation Proclamation and marks the oldest African American holiday.

Juneteenth serves as a reminder of our collective history and beacon of hope for change in the US after hundreds of years of Black enslavement. Abolitionists such as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman led the fight for racial equality in the 19th Century, and their 20th Century counterparts—W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., among others—carried the torch in seeking equal opportunities in spite of segregation and prejudice based on skin color and inaccurate racial stereotypes. Their dedication to fairness and justice brought about societal changes like access to higher education, improved housing, and voting rights.

In spite of these advances, Black Americans continue to confront injustices, most notably today in healthcare and matters involving law enforcement. Recent events like the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Daunte Wright highlight the need for our nation to address, and rectify, structural racism and biases in society impacting the livelihood and well-being of African Americans. 

Hope and Action in a Caring Community

There is a saying that I like, “Siempre parece imposible hasta que se convierte en realidad.”  The literal meaning of this phrase is, “It always seems impossible until it comes true.” At this moment, recovery from the last year and a half, and establishing new paths for the nation’s history related to LGBTQ+, immigrant, and black communities seems impossible. Our communities feel disconnected, and life feels overwhelming for so many of us. The inequities LGBTQ+, immigrants, and Black Americans have experienced and continue to encounter emphasize the need for hope in distress and combating bigotry and misinformation through a community of allies. Through a strong community, shared hope can fortify resolve and devise measures resulting in change for those facing disparities.

In the College, we believe in the inherent dignity of and equal rights for the LGBTQ+, immigrant, and Black communities, and we believe our university community is enriched by the voices and experiences these groups bring. Our collective work enables our institution and its inhabitants to flourish.

As we focus on a sustained commitment to everyone in our community to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom and across senior staff, our university offers LGBTQ+ individuals, immigrants, and Black Americans access to organizations and opportunities to enhance their academic and professional journeys so they can achieve their full potential.

Black Employees Association Affinity Group

California Dream Act Students

Community Scholars for Black Lives

Culture & Justice Clubs

Diversity Resources

First Generation Student Support

Latinx Employee Affinity Group

LGBTQ+ Faculty and Staff Affinity Group

McNair Scholars Program