Focus Groups with Students, Faculty & Staff

Programmatic Excellence and Innovation in Planning 2012-13 Project

PI: Sarah Taylor, Assistant Professor of Social Work

Presentations: (1) Presentation of the Focus Groups project at the Ethnographic & Qualitative Research Conference, February/2014. (2) Isobel Marcus’ MSW Thesis, “Critical Community Involvement at CSUEB: Exploring Barriers and Motivators”, supervised by Sarah Taylor, June/2013.

In 2012-13, we conducted 15 interviews with key informants from 11 programs. This included 12 interviews with representatives from eight programs on our campus and three interviews with directors of exemplary programs at three other universities. The exemplary programs were the following: Justice Studies Master's Program and Undergraduate Degree at SJSU; Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Temple University, PA; and Center for Research on Social Change at UC Berkeley.

We used a semi-structured interview guide to glean an overall understanding of DSJ-related activities, perceptions, and programing on the campus and how they overlapped with experiential learning about social issues in the classroom and/or community. We asked informants to describe the following:

  • Overall campus climate with regard to awareness of multiculturalism, diversity and social justice (DSJ)
  • How their program has sought to incorporate or infuse DSJ-related education into campus life/the curriculum
  • The impact of their program on student awareness, dialogue, or action on campus or in the community
  • Particular challenges faced in addressing DSJ on our campus with regard to our student body, faculty, staff
  • What kinds of changes or future vision respondents held for their program and for our campus on the whole

To analyze our interview data, we used grounded theory, a data-driven, "ground-up" approach to qualitative research (Strauss and Corbin, 1998). We first identified key concepts from interview transcripts, then, building on these concepts, identified themes from which we derived our recommendations for changes in pedagogy surrounding diversity and social justice at CSUEB. We defined a concept as an idea or insight expressed by a respondent; we defined a theme as a repeated idea or concept, or set of related concepts, found within a single interview and appearing across two or more interviews, which we paraphrased and condensed.

We found seven core themes with important implications for bringing about transformative types of pedagogies and practices on the CSUEB campus. The principal four are described in detail, followed by a list of the remaining.

1. Expand Definitions of "Diversity and Social Justice"

Respondents reported the desire to expand our definitions of "diversity and social justice" to include the category of inequality in addition to racial and ethnic diversity and other forms of diversity. For instance, inequality should be understood in terms of low-income, educationally disadvantaged students and remedial skill building (this would call for reinstituting programs such as writing-across-the-curriculum). Overall, respondents suggested paying attention to both difference and disadvantage, and better our understanding of how these concepts apply to our particular student population. Here are some example quotations from the interviews:

Social justice is a totally different thing than diversity. So while we may have a student body that is very exposed to various cultures, I think they are apathetic when it comes to social justice, and some the issues of equality that deal with other societies.
(Diversity Center Director)

Low income students are overrepresented in the students that need remediation, there's a class gap in quality education. So if we really want to graduate students with strong skill bases, we need to infuse writing into all of our courses, not just in remediation classes. We should redefine what we mean by remediation: it's important to make remediation empowering, not a punishment. Our students are coming from us in large numbers with poor skills due the quality education they received before they got to us. So we're going to continue the class gap unless we infuse writing throughout the curriculum.... And also I'm concerned about how large, capped, online courses, when used for remediation, such as SJSU Udacity Program, could potentially increase the race and class gap in quality education.
(Sociology and Social Services Chair)

2. Build Ongoing Liaisons with DSJ-Related Programs

The interview respondents also reported was the need to create formal, institutionalized relationships between faculty or academic departments and existing DSJ-related programs and activities on campus and in the community. This creates a lack of incentive for students and faculty to participate in DSJ education and co-curricular activities. Here are some example quotations from the interviews:

To be honest, things are not systemized, and there's no staff person to devote time to it, but having [a new Chief Diversity Officer] there is helpful....I don't have the time for research.
(FDEC Standing Chair)

You [need to] have the professor providing some type of buy-in...and [have] it somehow tied to their curriculum...With the Diversity Center, I imagine if we could have some type of formal faculty participation, whether that is some type of Board if you will, that helps direct programing in some way...some kind of formalized relationship with departments and faculty to help bridge that gap between what's going on the classroom and what we can do to supplement that experience for students.
(Diversity Center Director)

One way to incentivize faculty is to ensure that we're granting more sabbaticals for faculty who want submit proposals for revising their courses to be more focused on race and diversity. And I suggest making it count in the faculty file for promotion, including in low DSJ programs such as math and sciences.
(Sociology and Social Services Chair)

3. Deepen the Commitment to Diversity and Social Justice Campus-wide

Respondents reported that it seemed as though diversity and social justice issues were talked about on the superficial level and found in the campus Mission Statement, but that concrete and specific programs, trainings, or conversations were actually occurring. This in turn was felt to reduce incentive for students and faculty to participate in DSJ education and co-curricular activities. Here are some example quotations from the interviews:

From being at other campuses, I am surprised that for being a state school it seems we are little behind in terms of discussion around multiculturalism--and social justice...I was glad to see we actually have a Diversity Officer, and hopefully from that there will be some discussion around even having common definitions around what multiculturalism is, know, I haven't even seen any real friend at Berkeley said we just did this day-long training for the new Dream Act students...I just don't see or hear about any, like 'How do you better serve your students'? There has to be some level of training to serve our populations.
(EOP Director)

4. Lack of Resources and Support for DSJ-related Pedagogy, Programs, and Services

Respondents also reported a lack of financial resources for DSJ programs on campus. Here are some example quotations from the interviews:

UCLA and UCB have amazing programs and have lots of resources. Whereas we have to patch it together, here, on our campus... And there are all kinds of Best Practices out there...Ideally we'd have more resources, whether staff support or other, for example...we are not even working out of an office on our campus...(and) we didn't resource the McNairs (Scholars) Program property and gave no faculty incentives.
(FDEC Standing Chair)

There is a lack of support and resources for folks who have a good heart and good intentions, in the community at large, for programs on campus in general. For our program, we are state funded, but certainly it would be great to have more counselors, to have smaller caseloads that would allow us to reach out much more often. We have gotten two more counselors, but I have counselors that have 300, 400 students...
(EOP Director)

The Sociology and Social Services Department had a diverse graduate program, where many students moved onto Ph.D. programs, but, due to lack of resources, that program was frozen.
(Sociology and Social Services Chair)

Three More Themes

The fifth theme was "Materialistic values and popular culture as distractions from education and social issues." The sixth theme was: "DSJ-related co-curricular and other programs are decentralized and dispersed on the campus. Respondents reported a desire to centralize DSJ related programing into a campus "hub" or core offices, and create a separate physical space for DSJ programs. The seventh theme, "Transform pedagogy to include hands-on experience with real life issues and social problems," applies to the off-campus interviews and site visits to Exemplary DSJ Programs at other universities, and the kind of "hands-on" learning these programs foster can be summed up in this CSUEB respondent's statement, who also implements transformative pedagogies in her own classes:

"We participated in this huge march from the Mission to downtown San Francisco. For the students in that class, that was the perfect outcome, because they were able to read about it, they were able to see films about it, they were able to study it, and then they were able to experience it. And those students who went and did all those things that day came down and said that was the most meaningful experience they had ever had in school. I mean it's those kinds of teachable moments."
(Chair, Ethnic Studies Department, CSUEB)

Program & Pedagogy/Practice Description
Justice Studies Master's Program & Undergraduate Degree, SJSU
Human Rights Lecture Series
  • U.S. and international guest lecturers and scholars are invited to speak on campus several times per semester on an ongoing basis
Writing Intensive Courses
  • Elimination of much testing/no more than 20% of tests to be multiple choice
Academic versus Vocational Focus, with an eye towards graduate school preparation
  • Undergraduates are split about 50-50 between those entering or advancing in the criminal justice field, and those seeking higher education.
Critical Scholarship and Social Change Approach (critical criminology)
  • Scholarship that explores social inequality and social justice issues—race, gender, class, and other oppression—and seeks social change and transformative thinking.
Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, Temple University, PA
A Course About Mass Incarceration Held Inside a Prison.

(The course is taught through a variety of academic disciplines and departments.)
  • Course meets inside a prison, semester long, 1x per week seminar, with 15 “outside students” (Temple University undergraduates) and 15 "inside students" (prisoners).
  • Course credit offered to students, and to prisoners (where possible)
  • Engaging and transformative pedagogy—circle discussions, interpersonal exchange of ideas and experience between outside and inside students, writing and reading intensive course
  • Goal of social transformation, rethinking mass incarceration, humanizing prisoners, exploring social roots of offending and effects of incarceration.
Diversity Center, CSU East Bay
Diversity & Social Justice-Specific Field Experience and Community
  • Community engagement specifically about DSJ issues—ie. La Familia Internship: NGO-led

Our overall findings have important implications for the CSUEB campus. They highlighted current practices and ideas for "best practices" that may be useful to promoting DSJ learning at CSUEB. They also clarified directions and needs regarding the development of DSJ pedagogy and application of known 'best practices' for an urban, diverse and lower income student population. Specifically, we found a need to:

  1. More deeply engage in campus dialogues to define DSJ.
  2. Expand the definition of DSJ to address the educational quality gap for low-income students and better meet the basic-skills/remediation needs of our student population.
  3. Systematically develop and study the effectiveness of best practices adapted or created for the CSUEB campus.
  4. Offer DSJ service trainings.
  5. Institutionalize DSJ-specific programs on campus through formalizing relationships and building liaisons between existing programs and faculty/academic departments, and with Bay Area CBO and NGOs with a DSJ focus.
  6. Centralize and better communicate about DSJ-related programs and events campus-wide.
  7. Allocate adequate resources, including reducing class size in order to reintroduce writing across the curriculum into courses, and support faculty initiatives to develop DSJ best practices and pedagogical approaches, including increasing DSJ content in curriculum, to improve DSJ-related competences.


Develop tools and an incentive system which faculty can incorporate and develop to DSJ-related curriculum. Actionable steps, to be implemented in 2013-2014 through our Diversity Faculty Fellows Pilot Program PEIL Implementation Grant:

Actionable steps:

  1. Increase level of DSJ content in specific courses.
  2. Create and distribute a handbook to instructors to assist in transforming and developing new courses.
  3. Create a critical mass of faculty throughout the university to serve as future DSJ leaders.


Transform classroom pedagogy at CSUEB in ways that go beyond incorporating DSJ content into the curriculum. And institutionalize DSJ pedagogy on the CSUEB campus.

Actionable steps:

  1. Institutionalize DSJ-related programs and activities and formalize relationships between DSJ-related programs and professors by building ongoing liaisons between the DSJ-related programs on campus (such as Diversity Center) and academic departments and professors.
  2. To do the above, incentivize diversity and social justice-related pedagogy systematically: for example: a) integrate DSJ activities and existing programs on campus into the curriculum by structuring them as classes for credit, and offer credit for community-engagement., b) create a university-wide incentive system for faculty to incorporate DSJ-related activities and materials through, for example, promotion file "credits" (which should apply to STEM faculty and Department Chairs as well as CLASS and the other colleges).
  3. Emulate tested pedagogies and programs at other universities, such as writing-intensive courses, discussion-based pedagogy, reduced testing and decreased multiple-choice testing, and others.
  4. Redefine "remediation" as part of a comprehensive DSJ agenda and incorporate remedial education into the GE curriculum, such that low-income, educationally disadvantaged students from school districts lacking K-12 college preparation are offered needed background context and skill development
  5. Reintroduce writing-across-the curriculum in courses to close the gap in "quality education" and skill bases between low-income and middle class students. (CSUEB students are majority low-income and disproportionately represented among those who need remediation.)


Facilitate transformation of faculty, student, and staff understanding and appreciation of diversity and social justice.

Actionable steps:

  1. Define and formally adopt definitions of (a) "diversity" and "social justice", (b) specific competences and learning outcomes related to the DSJ ILO for students, faculty and staff, and (c) objectives for DSJ-related pedagogy at CSUEB, through year-long conversations of various kinds involving students, faculty, staff and administration.
  2. Design and implement a DSJ educational campaign through campus-wide discussions and workshops about diversity, multiculturalism, social justice, and civic engagement to increase sensitivity and gain a 'critical mass.'
  3. Conduct research to understand internal change processes toward increased appreciation of DSJ and involvement in civic engagement.
  4. Give equal attention to both, appreciation of cultural difference and to gaining an understanding of oppression and empathy for the struggles for justice of economically and socially marginalized groups.


Engage students in social change efforts and campaigns: facilitate students' taking action on and off campus toward diversity and social justice goals, becoming agents of change in different spheres of personal and community life.

Actionable steps:

  1. Build ongoing relationships and liaisons between CSUEB and Bay Area community based organizations and regional and national NGOs focused on social change and social justice. (These should be resources and contexts for student assignments, projects, internships.)
  2. Build ongoing relationships and liaisons between CSUEB and Bay Area community based organizations and regional and national NGOs focused on social change and social justice. (These should be resources and contexts for student assignments, projects, internships.)
  3. Incentivize students’ participation in community-based internships, service learning, and other projects and workshops through course credit.
  4. Conduct research to develop and test best practices that promote transformation toward being change agents.


Allocate adequate resources and support to DSJ-related programs, students, and to faculty to promote participation in, and research on, DSJ-related education.

Actionable steps:

  1. Sponsor DSJ trainings of various kinds (eg. Dream Act students and others) to help faculty and staff better serve our student population.
  2. Hire more staff for programs that offer direct services to students (EOP counselors, Financial Aid Office, Student advisers in Departments, etc.)
  3. Create a separate space and centralized office/s for DSJ-related programs (DELO, FDEC, etc.)
  4. Offer faculty sabbaticals to create DSJ-specific content and pedagogy for courses, including incorporating remediation into their curriculum.
  5. Support faculty who employ DSJ-specific pedagogies and other "best practices" with Teaching Assistants and Research Assistants.
  6. Reduce class size to allow for writing intensive assignments and courses across the curriculum in order to close the education and skills gap between low-income students (who are disproportionately students of color at CSUEB) and other students.
  7. Sponsor at the university level DSJ-specific lecture series, student internships, campus-wide workshops, etc.
  8. Sponsor research to evaluate and adapt best practices for the CSUEB community, including assessment tools for evaluating student learning and faculty development.


Make CSU East Bay a national model for DSJ education and transformative pedagogy.

Actionable steps:

  1. Create a Center for Diversity and Social Justice Teaching and Research that encapsulates the above recommendations.

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