Mary Wardell-Ghirarduzzi

image_6487327 (6)

Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Professor of Communication in College of the Pacific
Class of 1989
Communication Major

“Black Excellence is in you, you are black excellence, we are black excellence, and all we have to do is be it”

*Transcript Was Computer Generated*

Video 1

thank you dr wardell for taking the time
um to you know meet with us today can
you just give us some information about
yes so
i am the vice president for diversity
equity and inclusion and i’m also a
professor of communication in the
college of the pacific and my department
is the communications department which
is also the place and where i got my
first degree
am an alum of the institution as well
and i graduated in the communications
department in 1989
and so it’s been
more than 30 years later when i came
back in 2021
return to my alma mater um as a
university leader and diversity equity
inclusion as well as service and
professors so it’s
been uh it’s pretty wonderful to kind of
come back to the very place that uh
where it all began wow i think i hear
you say one of your degrees yeah well
one of yeah one you know my i only have
one undergraduate degree it’s at the
university of the classic
um and then a master’s from san diego
state um and intercultural uh counseling
and social justice education um i should
have known then that i would end up
doing work like this you know getting a
master’s degree in social justice
education in 95 96 when i got it but i
had no idea where the world would go all
i knew is that i cared deeply about
these issues and
found a program that helped me kind of
deconstruct the way that institutions
are sites of
both privilege and oppression and how
power plays out so i cared about that a
lot years ago and um
and here we are today very interestingly
and then i ended up going back to school
when i was in los angeles and i got my
doctorate at pepperdine wow ooh my
daughter went there yeah
that’s really
there’s so much to unpack
in what you’ve just shared and i want to
kind of like take you back to the time
when you was a student
day days walking onto the campus what
how was it for you oh my goodness well i
remember very much let me tell you
something i am a
first generation college student um and
when i came to the university of the
pacific i won’t i’ll never forget the
day because
i actually am a transfer student and i
i grew up in the community in the city
of stockton i grew up on the south side
of stockton um and a beautiful
multicultural neighborhood it was the
president’s street to all the presidents
and i grew up on lincoln street
but it was a place where not a lot of
young people were going to college
and so
it i did i was a good student and i went
straight to san joaquin delta college
and did six semesters there fall spring
summer fall spring summer
and in that last
semester the last spring that i was
i interacted with a woman
as i don’t know i kind of call it the
quad at uh san joaquin delta college it
was near the uh
the koi pond and she just approached me
she was an african-american woman she
worked for the university of the pacific
and she worked in the admissions office
and she struck up a conversation with me
her name um um just happened to be mary
as well i’ll never forget it and um
she was real sharp she had you know she
had a small fro and she had these
beautiful boots and
she just said will you promise me that
you’ll come to the university and meet
me because i want to introduce you to
some people
and i
told her i promised that i would come
now i had grown up in the city of
stockton i had to pass up the university
of the pacific every day on the bus city
bus in order to get to san joaquin delta
college and i had never stepped foot on
this campus
so i’m talking about a little girl in
the community grow up to go to the
community college and still never come
on the invitation of this beautiful
african-american woman who was an
employee of the university who insisted
that after she she
talked to me she says you really need to
come to this university i said okay i’ll
come to the university and
i remember getting off the bus
right here in front the same bus stop
and i remember walking up the uh the
walk to burns tower
and then i just walked up to knowles
hall because nose hall was where the
admissions office was and that’s where
the address was and i’ll never forget
how i felt that day because i knew that
something was happening in my life even
though i had no idea what it was
it was exciting it was scary it was kind
of lonely um but i did find her
and she did introduce me to people we
went to another part of campus which was
way about out in the cuts on campus
where the community involvement program
was but that program the cip program is
where i went and i
completed my application through them
and i ended up within
in that august just two months later i
was in i was in classes wow
yeah amazing
so anyways um so the university of the
pacific is uh incredibly important place
to me um
my body felt different when i was on
this campus i mean i literally bodily
there was a a visceral
reaction that i felt walking up the the
that pathway through nose lawn and i
part of it was because
i think in um
the environments and spaces matter
you know they they a space will tell you
um if you belong and if and if not or if
so how you belong and all i knew was
that i was entering a place that i had
never entered before that i hadn’t had
that type of access and my body was
telling me that even
and the reason why i knew i know that
because i felt the same thing
when i walked back on this campus
after i had accepted the job because we
had to do all the interviews through
to resume and i walked back up and i
remember coming to work and i was like i
almost feel like the same day the same
way i did 30 plus years ago you know but
i’m coming back in a whole different you
know context i’ve learned a whole lot i
understand how institutions work i’m a
leader of them and here i am today so
anyways that just gives you a little bit
a little bit of storytelling about um
the way that this space
impacted me fundamentally as a little
girl that grew up on the south side of
stockton who had never walked onto
campus until a black woman had invited
and insisted and urged me to come
so then
once you applied and you became a
changed if anything
well you know probably the most
important thing that happened to me was
that i did apply through the community
involvement program because it was a
cohort program that had wraparound
support services it was it was ahead of
its time you know so you know i’ve been
a an equity retention leader in higher
education for years now the community
involvement program has all the pieces
that the literature says about how do
you go about making a helping student be
successful it was cohort based
had academic support there was a tuition
you know scholarship piece um you had a
place to go
you know in between classes where you
can find your people
there were people that looked like me in
the program so it just had all the
elements you know and they had the
social academic support so i didn’t know
it but i didn’t really i had i was like
in a model program and later on in as a
leader i would identify like oh my gosh
the program that i was in higher
education is what needs to happen over
and over again you know what if you
wanted to choose a color to be
successful every program should be
modern like that but anyways so i had a
home base
and it’s really important that i tell
you about this home base because outside
that home base i did not feel like i fit
in at pacific to be honest with you
actually i had two home bait i had i had
the community involvement was my home
with all those support wrap around
services and relationships that i had
but then i identified and i found uh
black students also who were not from
the city of our area of stockton but
they were from san francisco they’re
from oakland they’re from vallejo they
were from
richmond they were from
los angeles they were from riverside
they were from san diego they’re from
a large contingent of african
students from the west coast was here at
the time that i was here in the 80s
we found each other and we built
community together and that was a great
way for me to just to see that there was
a lot a lot of different ways to be
that was my first introduction that
there was more ways to be black and
still be black um by being with them all
young people from other other places and
spaces urban
uh less rural i may have been the one
from the most rural background for the
most part with much more you know folks
from more urban areas and i got a chance
to get to see understand people that
came from middle class african-american
families or people that were not the
first generation they were like the
second or third generation you know and
just to interact with those type of uh
and make friends with those type of uh
students was really important and my own
development as a as a young black woman
and understanding you know the just the
diversity even within though that i call
the african diaspora you know we’re
diverse people
but then again it wasn’t just a black
you know you i know that you know we’re
focusing on the black student experience
but there was a strong um uh latinx uh
particularly mexican american presence
on campus
i probably was very much
aware of it because where i had grown up
in the city south side of stockton
and then there was also a smaller group
but a group of filipino-american
who again i had also grown up on the
south side of stockton so i think i had
an affinity with individuals
particularly students of color that had
grown up in the neighborhood that i had
grown up with you know it was a brown
neighborhood for the most part and um
black latinx asian american but
particularly filipino-american students
have been basically the people i had
grown up with my entire life and so i
found community with those people
because that
i just
i just that was my community my entire
life and so when i came to pacific and i
found those students that were here
whether they were from the the
geographic community they came from
elsewhere there was an affinity that we
all had um in our experiences yes at
pacific yeah
absolutely so
i think that that was 1989 and on our
journey uh you know in our research we
found out that there was a in general
appears to be a tighter community of
experience on campus absolutely in
comparison to
today yes and
i’m just wondering what do you see in
that in that way yeah well it’s
interesting you know so i arrived fall
of 1886 and then since i was a transfer
student i stayed an extra year because i
love the campus so much so i stayed for
three years and i left in 89. um
we called ourselves the pan-african
student alliance um
and um pan-african because you know
recognizing uh
the the kind of diaspora of the uh black
student experience and so at the time
that i was here it was very important to
you know we were
learning about the pan-african you know
presence in the united states and how
you know and just even that alone was a
learning process for me for being a kid
from south stockton and being a part of
a pan-african group was very cool
but the experience was had a lot to do
with what i call critical mass
there was a critical mass of african
americans attending the university
particularly in the 80s
which was when i was here that i think
i did not always stay in very good
contact with the institution
my primary relationship was through the
community involvement program but as i
saw a decline in the enrollment of
african americans over the years or
Video 2
african americans that were enrolled in
pacific particularly the undergraduate
i think it could be accredited to
different things
but those years that i was here there
was a critical mass meaning that we
always felt that we had to do something
all we had to do was organize who’s
apartment where we’re going to meet at
we’re going to meet downstairs at the
mccaffrey wherever we’re going to meet
up we’ll have a conversation and then we
go out and say this is what we’re going
to do
the years that i was here
in the fraternity row um
what was the name of that fraternity
anyways they had the audacity to put up
a confederate flag um and no one was
saying anything about it and then we had
to go and bring it to the president you
know um how offensive that was um
you know to uh to our identity and to
all students of color identity
you know so it was a much more active
group in regard but it had to do with
critical mass
so the critical mass piece i think was a
a part of several things i think you
know pacific has always been a division
athletic school
the years that i was there um elena odom
was a women’s volleyball player
powerhouse student brilliant as well as
a phenomenal athlete she had bought the
volleyball championship to pacific
you know ncaa african american wamish
now lives in southern california
and then another young woman the name of
her name was kathy she was a part of
that that death star
volleyball women’s team but these are
black women
black young women that were at the
highest of their athletic performance at
taking the campus to a national level
and then we also had um
a um the met the wolves only men but i
also had a football program was still in
place now to be honest with you elaine
there was a substantial number of
african-american students young men
who were also on scholarship through the
football program
so and they had come from everywhere
had come from out of state
they had come from in-state
but you would see black males walking
this campus and they were football
so when pacific decided to drop its
athletic program division one football
and if you were to go and do an analysis
of the enrollment of undergraduate
african americans you would see a direct
correlation to when that program ended
and a decline in the overall black
student enrollment particularly the
black male
student enrollment
the other thing that was also part of
the critical mass was that there was a
black greek
and there was the black greeks in
pacific were connected to the black
greeks at uc davis were collected
connected to the black greeks at uc
connected to the black greek to san
francisco state
so there would be meetups and different
campuses and so where they would come to
our campus and we would go to their
because we were regionally close enough
you know so there um was um
uh uh alpha kappa alpha
uh there was delta sigma theta um and
there was also um
zeta say to something row
and then
for the men there was omega sci-fi
there was the alpha men alpha phi alpha
there was a third one so i think there
were six black
greek organizations six of the divine
nine were on campus
and so
that presence
of having black greeks going through you
doing their things you know
having events on campus you know the
black greek stuff was exciting because
you know black greeks you know could
dance like nobody could because they
know how to step you know having step
shows on campus that just kind of
created a vibrancy
where people understood other students
knew there was black there was a black
student presence on campuses so i think
that when you have critical mass
it’s several things that are required an
institution has to invest in programs
that support black student success and
black student excellence
from the university perspective from a
local perspective i believe it was the
cip program
it had a higher enrollment of
african-american students that it has
you know i think that there’s
opportunity for us to understand you
know how we can get more african
american students into that program
because i came through that program and
there were other black students with me
so that was one place where there was
institutional support that brought in a
a cohort of black students
there was these athletic you know
programs that brought in very talented
student athletes and that’s reason i
mentioned the young women on the
volleyball team because they you know
elena and i lived in the same dorm the
southwest and she was just the star and
you know and then she ended up shooting
in the 90s she ended up playing um
volleyball in the 96 olympics you know
so she was really a star athlete um and
kathy who came from sacramento she was
younger than me but they were just
really star athletes but they were
attracted to pacific because of the
athletic program but they were also
great students i mean like really
really great students and then you had
all these young men and many of them
ended up going out to the business world
now we have one of them that has
returned to be on our board of regents
brian miller
he graduated two years after me he
graduated in 91 in the economics
department and he’s a brand new member
of the pacific board of regents and he
was on that football team wow so um
so those are some of the things i think
you know
community involvement program um a
strong athletics program and a robust
kind of black greek life and you put all
those together now you see why that
pan-african american african student
alliance was so strong
you know because there wasn’t one kind
of student yes there was
you know you could be
a black student geek
and still find your people you could be
a black student athlete and still find
your people you could be kind of i don’t
know whatever
and there was everybody could find
themselves yeah and nobody you know and
literally you know we knew who
were like i said you we found that i
learned there were many ways to be black
in the world that’s so cool so then
because there’s a lesser black presence
on campus today
how would you encourage
those of us who are black and
african-american to become more engaged
because it doesn’t there doesn’t appear
to be as many things happening well the
thing is that um the work that what i
described the institution supported it
so that i do believe there’s
institutional accountability in this
world okay i am an institutional actor
so i know that institutions have
accountability because institutions can
either create the environment or not
um and so
so i have to begin there
for the students themselves
i think the students have to find each
other and we have to find ways to
nurture them finding each other um and
then we have to find ways to not only
nurture them finding each other but how
to find their voice or help them to be
able to engage their voice in in
institutional contexts
what i see happening right now at
pacific i see just kind of pockets of
african americans
i see small groups of african-american
athletes it’s a lot less now than the
words before i see um
oftentimes one or two students
african-american students that are just
kind of in their majors kind of trying
to get through it by themselves
they have a lot of you know personal
personal you know um
uh stories that’s driving them to stay
in it because when i sit down and i talk
to them okay now there’s a narrative
there that’s the reason why they just
continue to persist because they don’t
really have a support system around them
but they may have obviously have family
and things of that but i’m talking about
the type that i’m i’m referring to so it
takes a lot for an individual to do that
and it’s lonely to do that too
um and so one of the things that i will
say is that this project is an important
but but anytime i find a black student i
always try to make sure that i introduce
them to someone else and another thing
is that because i believe in solidarity
i believe that collectivism and
solidarity has always moved people of
color forward um you know you look in
66 67 68 69 you look in the ways in
which the african-american
um and particularly the asian-american
and then the um
communities as well as indigenous
communities but you saw how they moved
together in what was kind of the third
world that’s what it was called that
time but it was a movement that was
really important in the 60s and really a
lot of that work you know was grounded
here in the bay area actually oakland
was like the grounds it was really the
the movement
uh city um and then stockton was not
that far away from it um i really
believe that there’s power
in black and brown communities engaging
together you know and i i use that kind
loosely meaning that black and brown is
anybody that sees and identifies with
that but i believe in the collectivism
of those groups moving forward so right
now there is actually
a young woman came to see me recently
and she said you know uh dr wardell we
started a new black and brown student
alliance i said really and i say who
just doing gummy she says anybody that
anybody that feels like they’re part of
that group because she says we feel like
we have there’s so few of us that we
have to band together in order to have
voice and i said you’re doing exactly
what your four mothers and your
forefathers have done i said that’s
exactly what you need to do and there’s
nothing wrong with you know within when
students go in and find identity with
people who are uh
have like you know uh you know ethnic
racial and other cultural experiences
and there’s power
when they’re when you do that in
solidarity that’s right that’s right you
know so it’s not an either or
um identity is not it’s never identity
and coalition building has never been an
either or it’s always been a both hand
african americans will find uh strength
in numbers on their own alliances and
then they go in solidarity with other uh
groups in order to advance causes and i
said that has been a a playbook that our
elders have taught us how to do that you
know we should always follow that
strength uh within our group and there’s
even more strength when you go in uh and
you collect advice and work in
you know what
i could sit and listen to you
all day you have such a minefield of
information about a heart and a passion
for what you do
and so
i just want to
end with this yes i don’t really want to
we have to though yeah
is there a quote a word or phrase a
saying a passion a desire that you want
to share
to the african american black community
on campus
coming in
as well as those who already here
to help them you know move on through
their career academic career
oh wow there’s so much there
i guess there’s anything that i want to
say particularly the black identified
that are coming in and that are here
is that um
black excellence is in you
you are
black excellence
black excellence
and all we have to do
is be it
that’s powerful
that’s what i think
just be it
we just be who we are
because we are because we are
thank you so much those words are
powerful to me
excellent thank you so much for your
time i really appreciate it and i want
to come back