After decades of passionate advocacy and compassionate service to CFA and San Diego State, Carrie Sakai passed away December 28 after a brief but valiant battle with pancreatic cancer.

Sakai served on the San Diego State University Senate, CFA San Diego Executive Board, CFA Counselors Committee, and on the CFA Bargaining Team. She retired in 2020 but continued to serve on the Bargaining Team until reaching the Tentative Agreement with the CSU. Sakai was a tireless advocate for counselors and the mental health needs of students. Friends, family, and colleagues remember she as a very warm and positive person who tried to bring out the best in people.  

A group of people posing for a photo
CFA Counselors Committee members. From left to right, back row: Chair Jay Robertson-Hall (San Marcos), staff Jason Conwell, Susan Chen (San Francisco), and Carrie Sakai (San Diego); front row: Stacie Pham (San Bernardino), Martha Cuan (formerly of Stanislaus), and Karla Castillo (San Francisco).

“I met Carrie at the CFA General Assembly many years ago. Over time, as core members of the CFA Counselors Committee, we all spent hours together several times a year at statewide and other meetings to work on counselor faculty initiatives … and to share conversation and meals,” recalled Susan Chen, former chair of CFA’s Counselor Committee and counselor at San Francisco State. “Carrie was exceedingly kind and so generous with her time. She was always willing to consult with and assist her fellow counselors, which reflected her commitment to student mental health. It will take a long time to process that she is no longer with us. Carrie, we miss your warm smile and send love to your friends and family.”

Sakai attended San José State, then moved to Japan for 17 years where she volunteered at a suicide hotline center. At the onset of the HIV Aids epidemic, Sakai established Japan’s first hotline for people recently diagnosed with HIV to lend support and assistance, reports her family.

She completed her undergraduate degree at San Francisco State, earned a Ph.D. in psychology and spent 16 years as a counselor and psychologist at San Diego State University. Sakai also served on the CFA Bargaining Team, where she worked to ensure that faculty had the resources to do the best possible work for their students.

“What I will always remember about Carrie Sakai, and will keep in my heart, is her compassion, and the deep understanding of humans that she brought to her work.”

Charles Toombs, CFA President

CFA President and former CFA San Diego Chapter President Charles Toombs fondly remembers Sakai as a co-conspirator in CFA’s advocacy for members, students, San Diego State, the CSU, and the larger community.

“What I will always remember about Carrie Sakai, and will keep in my heart, is her compassion, and the deep understanding of humans that she brought to her work. Carrie understood that issues are not just issues; they surround, shape, help, or impede our living and lived experiences. Carrie helped us all to not only love, but to express it to one another,” Toombs said.

When Manuel Rivera became a San Diego State counselor in 2011, Sakai provided mentorship and support as he grew into his role.

“Carrie Sakai was a beloved friend, valued colleague, and effective advocate for various causes,” Rivera said. “I had the opportunity of working with her on SDSU’s Safe Zones trainings, our Supplemental Instruction program, and our center’s clinical training program. It was also through Carrie that I became involved with our campus CFA chapter, along with many of my colleagues at the center. Carrie was the rare person who managed to balance clear-eyed realism with hope for a better future and effective action.”

While at San Diego State, Sakai developed a curriculum for at-risk students and was instrumental in connecting the campus mental health referral database with community agencies. She was very involved in the training and orientation of counseling and psychology department interns, particularly in the area of gender identity development. Her tireless service was again recognized in 2020 when San Deigo State created the Cayleff and Sakai Faculty Scholar appointment at the university’s Pride Center.

“I first met Carrie at a CFA Equity Conference during a Counselors Committee meeting. It was evident early on that Carrie had a passion for the work that we do in supporting students, but equally dedicated to the fair and equitable working rights for counselor faculty across the CSU system,” remembered Jay Robertson-Howell, chair of CFA’s Counselors Committee and CSU San Marcos counselor. “I feel so honored to have been able to work with Carrie on the Counselors Committee and to get to know her on a personal level the short time we worked together. She was an incredible person, and her presence will be missed.”

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