Bobbie Porter’s passion and enthusiasm for her work are evident the moment she starts speaking–and she’s ready to put that energy to work as CSUDH’s first vice president and chief diversity, equity, and inclusion officer.
“Education changed my life,” she says. “If you look at the statistics, there’s no way I should be where I am today. But I’m here. My mission is to help anyone that’s choosing education as that bridge, as that gateway to a better life. I want to help create the conditions so students can do that–so they don’t just survive college, but they thrive in it. And then they go out and change the world!”
Porter grew up in a military family–her father was in the Navy, so she spent her childhood moving from place to place as his career dictated. “I’ve lived all over,” says Porter, “but I see myself as a southerner. I lived in the South my entire adult life until about five years ago, when I took my previous role at CSU Fullerton.”
A Bend in the Road
After graduating from high school in Arkansas, Porter enrolled at the University of Memphis with the goal of pursuing a career as an animal psychologist. Unfortunately, the university didn’t share her vision and didn’t have programs in place that could help her persist in her goals. “I was prepared to succeed, but the university wasn’t prepared to ensure my success.”
She was “openly discouraged from trying to pursue the career path I’d chosen,” says Porter. “It was a huge blow. That personal experience, and knowing how institutional inefficiencies can impact students is the nexus of why I do what I do today. Institutions need to release past notions of readiness, and evolve to serve the diverse students of today.”
Porter fell back on her love of writing when she was deterred from her first chosen path. While working on her BA in Communications at Memphis, Porter reached a powerful turning point. “I had almost graduated,” she says, “but I was working two jobs, sending money home, going to class–I was exhausted. I had pretty much stopped going to classes. I was fighting financial aid, fighting landlords, struggling to get transportation to campus. I had just reached my limit.
“But out of nowhere, one of my professors called me and said, ‘Hey, we miss you in class. Are you okay?’ At that point, I honestly had no clue that anyone at the school knew I was alive. That one call from a professor kept me in school. It convinced me to persist through my undergraduate studies.”
A few years later, when she had the opportunity to move into higher education herself, Porter remembered that experience. “I want to be that person,” she says. “I want to be the one that helps students stay confident, who calls them and says, ‘I see you. I know you’re struggling. How can I help?’ I want to be a part of that.”
Porter ended up as a double graduate of the University of Memphis, attaining both a BA in Communications and a Doctorate of Education in Leadership. She also holds a Master of Public Administration degree from Tennessee State University.
Porter arrived at CSUDH after four years as chief diversity officer and assistant vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion at California State University, Fullerton (CSUF). Prior to CSUF, Porter served as the chief equity officer for the Tennessee Board of Regents, the state’s 46-institution university, community college, and technical college system. Porter also held leadership roles within the Institutional Equity Office at Tennessee State University and coordinated education and outreach efforts for the Tennessee Human Rights Commission.
Bringing Her Talents to CSUDH
Porter is stepping into a newly created position at CSUDH, one that she sees as essential to the university’s mission. “The idea of a chief diversity officer is relatively new,” she says. “A lot of institutions are grappling with how to close equity gaps for students of color. But it’s hard to try to do this work in a substantive and transformative way if your diversity practitioners aren’t in the room where decisions are being made, where they can hear the issues as they come up. Only then can they help shine a light, and call attention to the fact that these are actually equity issues.
“I love the idea that this position now lives here, because it only can help further advance this work. That’s a huge part of the core mission of CSUDH!”
Porter says that her initial goal at Dominguez Hills is to listen and learn. “Every campus has its own personality, its own history, its own traditions, its own general assumptions. I know I can’t come in and say, ‘This is what I did in Tennessee, and this is what I did at Fullerton.’ I have to learn from the people who have been here–students, faculty, staff, everyone. What drives you? I want to know everyone else’s mission and how we connect with that. How do we join together to create the shared vision for how this work will be realized in the coming years?”
Although she’s only been on campus for a short time, Porter already feels that she’s made the right choice in bringing her talents and enthusiasm to CSUDH. “I really felt an intuitive sort of draw to the institution. I’m drawn to the history and the origins of this campus,” she says. “I see myself in these students. I mean, I just survived undergrad. I don’t want that to be anyone else’s story. It’s easy to maintain my light and my passion when I feel so personally connected to the student story here.”
Porter has already drawn inspiration from CSUDH President Thomas Parham and the school’s new strategic plan. “I’m very inspired by the concept of ‘Going Far Together’ and the opportunities there. I’m really excited about that. If I, as a newcomer to campus, can rely on this plan as the blueprint and the heartbeat of CSUDH, then I know I’m in the right place.
“Those five pillars (thriving students, thriving educators, culture of care, equitable access, and pillar of the community) align with a lot of my personal values. I see myself contributing to that very well. I already feel like I’m at home. I’m happy that I’m here and I’m ready to get to work!”