History & Hope: Professor encourages youths to engage in community to help fight racism

This month, Hearst Television is celebrating Black history by having courageous conversations. The fight for civil rights and justice goes back generations and has looked different each decade. We’re speaking with community leaders, elders – those who have lived through victories and troubled times, to talk about their experiences, and compare them with what we still struggle with today.Julian Gaskins, a producer with sister station KCRA, spoke with Robert Stanley Oden, a published author and political science professor at Sacramento State University in California.You can watch the interview above and read a condensed Q&A of the interview below.Q: Can you describe what it was like the first time you came to the Sacramento area? Oden: Wow. I came in the Sacramento area when I went to UC Davis in the summer of 1967, well, August of 1967. There were only 40 African Americans on campus. In fact, there were more African students on campus than there were African American students on campus. I had experience in San Diego of helping organize the Black student association at San Diego State in 1966. It was one of the first Black student organizations on the West Coast. And so I brought a lot of those ideas with me to Davis.There was a need to unite to do things to basically deal with the issues confronting us. Racism wasn’t as blatant as it was in the South. There was no ‘colored only’ signs in California, but racism was very strong, and it’s what we call institutionalized racism. That was so evident when you don’t see folk like yourself either teaching or students.I was the president of the Black Student Union at the time and we began to organize on campus to begin to deal with the issues Dr. King had talked about and bringing people together. So we started the Martin Luther King Coalition.The regents couldn’t meet in any University of California campus because of the protests happening in 1968, 1969. So they decided to come to Davis to meet because Davis is a safe campus. We organized over 2,000 students to come to the regents meeting. Ronald Reagan was governor. He called 75 to basically come arrest us who were there. And then, they didn’t do anything, but we said we’ll meet you at the next regents meeting. The next regents meeting was at UC Santa Barbara. So we took 500 students down to that meeting — scared everyone down in UCSB to death. They thought it was an invasion from Davis. Well, we were invading that regents meeting. And at that meeting, they agreed with some of our demands.Q: What are some of the ways you’ve helped break down barriers here at Sac State?Oden: One of the things I found out when I was doing my research around education achievement is children do better in classrooms when they can relate to the faculty members. And they can relate to the faculty member through cultural relationships and understanding who the students are. And at Sac State, you had so few students of color, and that had to affect the retention of students of color. So, in my department, I was on hiring committees and I know that’s where the rubber meets the road.Q: Do you have a message for the younger generation that are pushing for young people like you did most of your life? Oden: Get involved. Get involved in your community. One of the things I’ve done as a professor is, I’ve gotten students involved in service-learning, going and working in organizations and agencies who are paid to learn from what’s going on. But also to engage in the community, community issues and community problems so they can really understand the lived experiences that people have.

This month, Hearst Television is celebrating Black history by having courageous conversations. The fight for civil rights and justice goes back generations and has looked different each decade. We’re speaking with community leaders, elders – those who have lived through victories and troubled times, to talk about their experiences, and compare them with what we still struggle with today.

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Julian Gaskins, a producer with sister station KCRA, spoke with Robert Stanley Oden, a published author and political science professor at Sacramento State University in California.

You can watch the interview above and read a condensed Q&A of the interview below.

Q: Can you describe what it was like the first time you came to the Sacramento area?

Oden: Wow. I came in the Sacramento area when I went to UC Davis in the summer of 1967, well, August of 1967. There were only 40 African Americans on campus. In fact, there were more African students on campus than there were African American students on campus.

I had experience in San Diego of helping organize the Black student association at San Diego State in 1966. It was one of the first Black student organizations on the West Coast. And so I brought a lot of those ideas with me to Davis.

There was a need to unite to do things to basically deal with the issues confronting us. Racism wasn’t as blatant as it was in the South. There was no ‘colored only’ signs in California, but racism was very strong, and it’s what we call institutionalized racism. That was so evident when you don’t see folk like yourself either teaching or students.

I was the president of the Black Student Union at the time and we began to organize on campus to begin to deal with the issues Dr. King had talked about and bringing people together. So we started the Martin Luther King Coalition.

The regents couldn’t meet in any University of California campus because of the protests happening in 1968, 1969. So they decided to come to Davis to meet because Davis is a safe campus. We organized over 2,000 students to come to the regents meeting. Ronald Reagan was governor. He called 75 [California Highway Patrol members] to basically come arrest [those of] us who were there.

And then, they didn’t do anything, but we said we’ll meet you at the next regents meeting. The next regents meeting was at UC Santa Barbara. So we took 500 students down to that meeting — scared everyone down in UCSB to death. They thought it was an invasion from Davis. Well, we were invading that regents meeting. And at that meeting, they agreed with some of our demands.

Q: What are some of the ways you’ve helped break down barriers here at Sac State?

Oden: One of the things I found out when I was doing my research around education achievement is children do better in classrooms when they can relate to the faculty members. And they can relate to the faculty member through cultural relationships and understanding who the students are. And at Sac State, you had so few students of color, and that had to affect the retention of students of color. So, in my department, I was on hiring committees and I know that’s where the rubber meets the road.

Q: Do you have a message for the younger generation that are pushing for young people like you did most of your life?

Oden: Get involved. Get involved in your community. One of the things I’ve done as a professor is, I’ve gotten students involved in service-learning, going and working in organizations and agencies who are paid to learn from what’s going on. But also to engage in the community, community issues and community problems so they can really understand the lived experiences that people have.