Cal State San Marcos Professor of psychology Gerardo Gonzalez came to North San Diego County from the Central Valley, “Fresno was the big city for me.” As an undergrad at Fresno State, Gonzalez and his wife were active with MEChA and immersed in the local activist community.
His parents were Mexican immigrants, and he grew up with four brothers and four sisters. “To keep a roof over our heads, we all had to help out.”
Gonzalez had been working in the fields since he was young. “If I have two hands, I guess the family felt I could contribute,” Gonzalez said, laughing.
Gonzalez’s activism first focused on farmworker issues. In the 1980s, it morphed into coalition-based advocacy for Nicaragua, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan migrants fleeing their home countries’ destabilized regimes, “We even got involved in apartheid issues in South Africa.” Gonzalez learned the importance of coalition work.
After four years as a union organizer, Gonzalez decided to go back to graduate school and become a clinical psychologist. “I went from helping groups of people to individuals,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez came to CSU San Marcos in 1991 and would unexpectedly be consumed by a building name.
The CSU San Marcos administrative building was named in 1991 to memorialize William Craven, a former California state senator who was considered the father of the university after having advocated for its opening and authored the bill establishing the campus.
In 1994, campus Academic Senate members unanimously passed a resolution to remove his name due to his racist and inflammatory statements about undocumented people. Then, CSU San Marcos President Stacy refused to honor the will of the faculty. Faculty and staff, primary Latinx and Black, faced retaliation. Students, faculty, and staff protested.
Combating the building name change was a coalition effort starting in the 1990s merging those agitated by an increasing anti-immigrant sentiment with persistent and necessary organizing against anti-Black racism and direct threats among North San Diego white supremacists’ groups. White supremacists were actively organizing against the campus’ messages of diversity and inclusion and the increase in the presence of Latinx and Black people. At least two Black women professors were individually threatened.
Organizing among generations of activists led to the building being renamed.
“This is a starting point. This is not an ending point,” said CFA Associate Vice President, South, and CSU San Marcos Professor Michelle Ramos Pellicia. “We also have to look at how we’re treating faculty of color, students of color, and employees of color.”
Campus activists learned to dream big and find the strength to sustain a movement for change. The same is true to achieve the transformative faculty contract that the CSU deserves.
Founded in 1989, CSU San Marcos was established to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse California with a mission statement emphasizing a commitment to diversity. For the increasingly diverse faculty opening the university, Craven’s anti-immigrant views reflected the legacy of anti-Black white supremacist activity in North San Diego County. For example, Tom Metzger, former Grand Dragon of the California KKK and founder of White Aryan Resistance, which formed Klan Border Watchers, called North San Diego County home. Metzger is considered one of the most influential leaders of the white supremacist movement.
While Craven was the chairperson of the Legislature’s Special Committee on Border Issues, he called for a head count of undocumented residents for their financial impact on schools and public agencies like hospitals and trauma centers. He advocated for state agencies to turn in students and the children of undocumented workers.
At a 1993 legislative hearing, then-Sen. Craven referred to undocumented immigrants as being on the “lower scale of our humanity.” In a 1994 interview, he indicated his support for a legal resident eligibility card for Latin Americans.
He insisted that undocumented people should carry an ID. In response, many on campus wore “Hispanic cards” made by art professors and friends to mock his call for an ID.
His views reflected the sentiment that fueled the passing of Proposition 187, advocated by former San Diego Mayor and then Governor Pete Wilson.
Mass mobilizations against Proposition 187 added to the charged atmosphere. During one iconic protest, thousands of high school and community college students converged at what was then called Craven Circle at CSU San Marcos. Management subsequently locked down the campus, locking students out.
Gonzalez was the Latino Association of Faculty president and felt compelled to act by getting involved in the 1994 faculty senate resolution efforts.
It was a distressing period for Gonzalez. At a time before social media, he would receive relentless phone calls and threatening voicemails. “The thing that bothered me the most was public safety, not taking these threats seriously.” Police insisted that they couldn’t do anything about it since nothing happened.
One administrator suggested Gonzalez’s career was over for advocating and organizing. At the time, San Marcos’s mayor went so far as to suggest that faculty need to leave town. Hateful columns and articles aggressively appeared in the local press.
Advocating felt consistent with the mission statement’s emphasis on diversity at the emerging CSU San Marcos.
“It was important for us to push back, fight back, and stand for the mission,” said Gonzalez. “We wanted to ensure the community knows they’re all welcome here.”
While his efforts in the mid-90s were unsuccessful, there continued to be sustained interest in removing the former senator’s name.
Leaders like Gonzalez, Ramos Pellicia and others have become activists and organizers who are now campus leaders. Ramos Pellicia would go on to use her position on the statewide academic senate and as a leader the CFA Chicanx/Latinx caucus to bring broader attention to the necessity of changing the administrative building name.
Grad school at Ohio State was challenging for Ramos Pellicia. As a Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican, she felt stigmatized for layering in the rhythm and expression of Spanish to augment the frustrating limitations of the English language.
Within the first month of her studies, she was confronted with intrusive questions on her legal status, “point blank in the DMV: ‘Are you a U.S. citizen?'” remembered Ramos Pellicia incredulously. She thought taking a job in Southern California would be more welcoming.
Ramos Pellicia found that Southern California has its own practices of commemorating white supremacists. Fortunately for her, she found others on campus, through the University Without Borders Collective, who wanted to and had been trying to fight against white supremacy. CSUSM professor of sociology & criminology and justice studies, Xuan Santos was a co-founder of the collective and would play a key role in the building name change. He would eventually form part of the eventual task force on the building name and helped mobilize community members.
In 2016, Ramos Pellicia supported undocumented student organizing and began talking about the offensive presence of the former senator on the administration building.
Activity on campus heightened when the career center had a job fair featuring recruiters from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local police. Seeing the familiar and terrorizing green and white border enforcement vehicles on Cesar Chavez Plaza was daunting.
Organizing and protests pushed university administrators to agree to a warning system so students could choose off-campus when ICE was around. They may not have kicked ICE off campus, but they did restrict their movement.
As the campus became browner and administrators started identifying it as a Hispanic Serving Institution, memorializing those who actively advocated against Latinx people became untenable. Feeling emboldened, it occurred to organizers that perhaps they could remove the persistent honoring of a racist politician.
This period of introspection coincided with the police execution of George Floyd and the inequitable dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic. At San Marcos, posters promoting a white nationalist hate group emerged on campus as the Black Lives Matter movement brought renewed attention to the history and legacy of anti-Black racism on campus and in the community.
To them, it was clear that the 1990s anti-immigrant hostility persisted as the undocumented community continued expressing fear and uncertainty over getting entangled in the deportation web by using pandemic-related government services.
“Undocumented people were working as caregivers and nurses, providing services that people needed because we were dying from the pandemic from COVID-19,” Ramos Pellicia said. “All that was happening, and so we said, ‘Okay, this is the time!”
In Spring 2021, CSU San Marcos’ Academic Senate passed a resolution supporting the renaming of Craven Hall.
CSU San Marcos President Ellen Neufeldt charged a taskforce to consult on renaming. Taskforce sessions served as a telling of old wounds and the possibility of healing and reflected the coalition nature of the organizing that included Latinx and California Native faculty.
“The beauty in this story is that everybody showed up to the listening sessions that the task force organized,” said Ramos Pellicia. “But it was the online closed session with undocumented community members, loved ones, and co-conspirators. That was the most powerful event.”
By the January 2023 CSU Trustees meeting, faculty, students, and alumni spoke passionately in support of removing Craven from the name of the administrative building. The trustees later approved the name change with no debate.
“It’s very symbolic and powerful to have changed the name of that building because it makes us realize our power,” said Ramos Pellicia. “This is part of the ongoing fight against Craven and symbolically against white supremacy as it persists.”