In 2020, there are a lot of things we cannot change or control. Many of us are at home watching history being written right before our eyes—on the news, in the streets, within our local Chico community, and around the world.
But even during a time riddled with uncertainties, Chico State students are using their unique positions to initiate global change.
On September 16, the Associated Students (AS) Board of Directors unanimously voted to include Juneteenth as an annual paid holiday—becoming the first Associated Students auxiliary in the California State University system to do so. The resolution, which was introduced by the elected student leaders of the AS Board of Directors, acknowledges and supports the need for the history of the Black community to be recognized in official policy and shared to sustain our advancement as a unified people.
“The AS resolution recognizes that inequity at Chico State exists as long as its educational system remains built upon the foundation of systemic racism,” said agricultural education major Bre Holbert, the 2020–21 AS president. “We are committed to understanding America’s legacy of slavery in order to dismantle the systems that continue to oppress people of color, and by honoring Juneteenth as a paid holiday, we hope to acknowledge its historical significance.”
The nine-member AS Board of Directors is composed of six elected students and three University representatives, and chaired by the AS President. Holbert has been on the AS Board of Directors and attended California State Students Association (CSSA) regularly for two years as an elected officer. The resolution to approve Juneteenth as a paid holiday for the auxiliary came from a resolution she helped draft and reveal at CSSA.
“This decision is incredibly important. I understand that our AS is predominately white, and this holiday wouldn’t necessarily be physically impactful to many Black staff or officers in our AS. I have recently been encouraged to view this recognition in a different way,” she said. “Juneteenth sends a message to our AS, to our campus, to the other CSUs that the culture, transgressions, and success of the Black community need a day of recognition, celebration, and reflection regardless of the demographics of each of our campuses or auxiliaries.”
From its introduction, and throughout a thoughtful revision process, the resolution was supported by both AS and University staff. Katie Peterson, associated director of AS programs and government affairs, has been working in student affairs positions at Chico State for nine years now, including at Chico State’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center. Through her work, she has been staunchly dedicated to supporting students of color and seeking solutions to tackle systematic racism for nearly a decade.
In the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and Tony McDade, students were driven to action and she wholeheartedly supported them.
“This group of students [is] not interested in being complacent in what is going on in our country,” said Peterson. “They started their term at the start of a global pandemic, and they have continued to face unsurmountable challenges both personally and professionally, but their commitment to diversity has never wavered. … They have set the bar high for the elected representatives coming after them.”
Board member and Director of Legislative Affairs Anthony Ruiz has been involved with the AS at Chico State since he was a first-year student. Now a graduate student studying for his Master of Business Administration, he has held three positions within the organization’s Government Affairs team, including commissioner of student organizations and resources and executive vice president. Since his introduction to the AS, he has been involved with several resolutions that seek to advocate for and support people of color—especially students.
“It is important for us to put action behind our words, especially since we recently passed a statement in which we denounced racism. We are committed to providing actionable change on our campus and this begins by taking initiative and evaluating what we can do within our organization,” he said. “The decision to approve Juneteenth shows that the Associated Students at Chico State is committed to advancing justice and implementing inclusive policy into our corporation and to providing an inclusive workspace for our staff.”
Admittedly, recognizing Juneteenth as a paid holiday does not eradicate the roots of systemic oppression, but the AS board sees it as only the beginning of the work it plans to implement to support the Black community and all people of color.
The students agree they are humbled to have the chance to send such a message through their actions, hopefully setting a tone for all 22 sister campuses and other institutions of higher education.
“Us being the first AS within the CSU system to pass this is huge. I hope this will not only lead to others enacting similar policies, but also push the CSUs [themselves] to do the same,” said board member and vice president of business and finance Austin Lapic. “This change has been long overdue, and no matter the cost of this, it is worth it to us.”
For Holbert, this resolution represents more than a verbal commitment to support the University’s priority on equity, diversity, and inclusion. She hopes it will be just the first among many actions to come.
“Chico State may not be perfect in everything that we do. However, what I have appreciated about our institution is that we strive to be better,” said Holbert. “Celebrating this holiday definitely doesn’t fix the hundreds of years of oppression and inequities toward the Black community, but hopefully by celebrating this day we can uplift the [history] of Black folks among our community.”
Anna Paladini (’16) is the marketing manager for the Associated Students. When she’s not busy checking social media and working with student creatives, she’s writing about her favorite place on Earth: Chico State.