Friday, February 19, 2016

Shaletha Arnold: Forming a Black Student Union at Cuyamaca College

Shaletha Arnold
Shaletha Arnold is on a mission. Her mission is to build a coalition of African-American students at Cuyamaca College while providing myriad educational opportunities to learn about their rich – but often overlooked – history. 

Meet the force behind the new Black Student Union, which debuts during a Feb. 25, Black History Month event on the Grand Lawn, where Arnold and others will be joined by black business and civic leaders in introducing the group to the college community. The event, which includes speakers and free food, is scheduled from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.  

“We make up between 6 and 7 percent of the student population, which is not an insignificant number,” said Arnold. “We need to come together and work with each other in creating mentorships and support and educational programs.”


Arnold’s dedication is earning praise from college administrators. 

“I am constantly impressed with her leadership skills and dedication to her curricular and co-curricular activities,” said Lauren Vaknin, associate dean of student affairs. “Besides being instrumental in creating the Black Student Union of Cuyamaca College, Shaletha has been an integral part of coordinating several events throughout the semester.” 

Among them: the screening of a documentary on the Black Panther movement, followed by a discussion. 

Arnold said she was encouraged to form a Black Student Union after attending a recent campus discussion on the low number of African-American males enrolled in college. The next thing she knew, she was laying the foundation for a Black Student Union. The toughest challenge? Apathy. 

“The first thing you hear from people you approach is, ‘I don’t have time,’” she said. “But this is something aimed at bringing people together, not something that is going to waste your time. It’s important.” 

Like many Cuyamaca College students, Arnold’s route to the Rancho San Diego campus was far from direct. Born and raised in San Diego, Arnold began working in a variety of jobs after graduating from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts in 2005, including as a clerk at the San Diego Mesa College bookstore, at a Macy’s department store and at a Hertz rental car location.

At age 22, she and her best friend moved to New York, but she returned two years later. After giving birth to a daughter, Zhyin, more than five years ago, Arnold decided it was time to go back to school and build a better future for her and her child. 

“I needed to have a career for myself and my daughter so I could give her the best in life,” said Arnold. Living in El Cajon at the time, Arnold enrolled at Cuyamaca College.  

“I wanted to go to a community college and I wanted to go to a community college where I could focus,” she said. “Cuyamaca is a quiet campus where you could get to know your professors and keep your mind on your classes. There are no distractions. Plus, it’s like family here. I couldn’t find a better place.” 

Arnold’s plans initially were geared toward studying business management, but those plans changed after she shined in an English class assignment calling for her to read The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother and teach the class a lesson about the book. Arnold not only aced the assignment, she exhibited a passion that prompted her instructor to convince Arnold to consider a career as a teacher. Arnold wasn’t quite convinced – until she enrolled in a course on African-American studies.   

“It changed everything,” she said. “The class taught me a history that I was not fully aware of. It changed my perspective on how my people came to be. A sad reality is that too many people in the black community do not know their real history. I want to help change that.” 

Arnold’s goal is to earn her Ph.D. in Africana studies, teach at the university level and research the subject. She is on track to transfer to UC San Diego in 2017. 

I fully expect Ms. Arnold to achieve her dream of being a professor of Africana Studies and to make a difference in the lives of future students,” said Nanyamka Hill, Acting Assistant Dean, EOPS, at Cuyamaca College.