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Student Success 2022

Cal State LA, Cal State San Bernardino faculty awarded grant to help close equity gaps in degree completion

June 30, 2022

Cal State LA News Service

Graduates celebrating at Commencement 2022.
Photo: Graduates celebrating at Commencement 2022. (Credit: Robert Huskey/Cal State LA)

Cal State LA faculty member Jessica Morales-Chicas and two Cal State San Bernardino professors have received a $125,000 grant to establish a program that will help close equity gaps in degree completion across the California State University.

The CSU CREATE Awards support innovative faculty projects that increase the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded, while also reducing equity gaps. The CREATE Awards are funded by the College Futures Foundation and align with the CSU’s Graduation Initiative 2025 goals.

Morales-Chicas and Cal State San Bernardino professors Manpreet Dhillon Brar and Stacy Morris received one of five CREATE awards given to CSU faculty.

The program will recruit a cohort of 35 students, faculty and staff from CSU campuses in Southern California. The Universal Human Rights Initiative, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, will then train the cohort in intergroup dialogue.

Intergroup dialogue is a type of facilitated conversation that combines active learning with theory. It includes knowledge of systems of oppression, social identities and injustices. This approach allows for facilitated dialogues on difficult topics that can lead to coalition building and action.

The goal is to first equip students, faculty and staff with the skills to discuss and recognize the barriers to degree completion that exist for students. After the training, the group will be asked to create action plans to help close these gaps at their campuses, Morales-Chicas said.

“By creating community alliances centered on equity, we can collectively move the needle toward increased graduation rates at the CSU,” said Morales-Chicas, associate professor in the Department of Child and Family Studies in Cal State LA’s Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services.

Dhillon Brar serves as the principal investigator for the program, with Morales-Chicas and Morris serving as co-principal investigators.

While a Ph.D. student at UCLA, Morales-Chicas mentored Dhillon Brar, who was an undergraduate student at the time. Now, years later, they are working together to help advance student success across the system as fellow CSU faculty members, along with Morris.

As a trained intergroup dialogue expert, Dhillon Brar brought the team together to figure out a way to leverage intergroup dialogue to create change, Morales-Chicas said.

“I was moved by this idea, and we spent quite a bit of time figuring out an innovative way to combine reflection, dialogue and action,” Morales-Chicas said. “Together, the three of us bridged our ideas and designed this project. I look forward to the work ahead.”

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