CSULB Convocation 2023: President Conoley, Provost Scissum Gunn say compassion is key to a better Beach

Published August 18, 2023

President Jane Close Conoley asked those at Convocation 2023 to imagine working, learning and teaching on a supportive Cal State Long Beach campus. A place that accepts differences and where diversity is a core strength, not an enemy or a threat. 

“A place that has your back, believes in you and your aspirations, and exists fundamentally to promote your success,” she said Friday at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center. “A place that accepts differences in religious, political, ethnic, racial, ability and other identity realities with a conviction that diversity is our strength, not our enemy – not a threat but an opportunity for greatness.” 

Conoley’s goal for the upcoming academic year is to build a more compassionate Beach community. To build a better Beach, she said. 

“It is important to seek affinity groups, but it’s also necessary and courageous to find ways to make use of our differences to be the best university in the galaxy,” Conoley said. 

Provost Karyn Scissum Gunn carried that theme through her speech, asking students, faculty and staff to create a more compassionate Beach. 

Provost Karyn Scissum Gunn speaks at Convocation 2023
Provost Karyn Scissum Gunn says "Compassion, creativity and innovation characterize Beach culture.” 

“We have declared our intent to do this work from the heart, to embed compassion into every aspect of this institution,” Scissum Gunn said. “Compassion is declared a priority for this campus because it goes even deeper – compassion is rooted in the core values of CSULB – and we have made this promise to one another and all who are here and want to be here. 

“Compassion, creativity and innovation characterize our culture.” 

Both Conoley and Scissum Gunn pointed to ways the campus seeks to achieve this goal - through on-campus renovations to new and expanded on-campus programs. One new program is Beach XP, which will offer first-year students community experiences that support their academic and personal success with smaller classes, learning cohorts, mentoring and shared spaces. 

The Beach Wellness mental health plan, which offers more than 60 ways to improve students’ well-being, is another cornerstone in the way CSULB supports the Beach community.

While those services are key to a compassionate and supportive campus, Conoley said she wants to build an environment in which “everyone feels they belong and are valued at The Beach” through a structure of equity and belonging. 

“I don’t want to re-invent what we already have, but rather create a network so we can learn from each other, recognize gaps, and use best practices,” Conoley said. 

Scissum Gunn said compassion unfolds in how CSULB prepares the students to be change-makers and contributors to a “culturally conscious society.” 

“I mentioned this idea of ‘heart work’ and every day, it presents a renewed opportunity to move toward this principled, empathetic frame of mind and commitment and deed. It feels downright uplifting to hear words of goodwill from our colleagues and see our students leading in ways that make us feel the realness of this heart work,” Scissum Gunn said. 

“Hearing our campus members share their powerful words for us makes me incredibly hopeful for this upcoming academic year. This is not Pollyanna-speak – no question, there will be challenges – but aren’t there always? But this year is yet another chance to do things that matter for the big picture for this campus.” 

Conoley said one of the challenges facing CSULB as it moves toward reaching its Beach 2030 Strategic Plan goals is operating at a time when the effort to increase success and create a sense of belonging at universities are being tested in other states. What others call a “woke” atmosphere, she calls “alert.” 

 “Such alertness seems a fundamental element of good teaching, good living and being student ready,” she said.  

“So, as we embark on this emerging structure to govern our work for Beach 2030’s goal to create and maintain an empowering and equitable culture, my wish is that it makes us more alert as to how our systems, administrative regulations, personal styles and unexamined norms may be supporting or inhibiting our efforts that will allow all of us to become our best selves.”