USF’s leadership team traveled to California’s Central Valley for six days in May to develop a better understanding of the complex issues facing the area, including poverty, gang violence, underfunded schools, environmental degradation, and the exploitation of immigrant labor.
The 22-member team included the university’s president, deans, and vice presidents. “This trip was a consciousness-raising exercise,” said USF President Stephen A. Privett, S.J. “We can’t challenge our students to understand these issues with their heads and hearts if we don’t make the effort ourselves.”
The group visited five cities in six days—Stockton, Modesto, Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield—to hear from those on the front lines: educators, pastors, elected officials, nonprofit leaders, and the residents themselves.
‘What stood out about the trip
for me was the magnitude of the problems and the number of people who were affected by conditions that, in some cases, I couldn’t imagine were possible’
—Marcelo Camperi, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
“Times are bad,” said Elvira Ramirez, executive director of Stockton’s Catholic Charities. Demand for services like food assistance and prenatal care continues to grow but exceeds what her organization can provide.
“What stood out about the trip for me was the magnitude of the problems and the number of people who were affected by conditions that, in some cases, I couldn’t imagine were possible,” said Marcelo Camperi, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, if the Central Valley were a state, it would have the nation’s highest poverty rate at 23 percent.
USF is one of few universities that sponsor immersion trips for its leadership. In previous years, teams visited Mexico, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, exploring issues those countries face. The trips are underwritten by university donors.