Racial tension was in the air yesterday at Cal State Fullerton’s commencement ceremonies, specifically where keynote speaker and renowned Univision broadcast journalist María Elena Salinas addressed graduating Titans, including myself.
Salinas delivered two speeches yesterday: one as the keynote speaker for Sunday’s school-wide university ceremony (opera star Deborah Voight addressed the Saturday
While a snippet of Salinas’ university-wide and “tamer”commencement speech is available on Univision’s YouTube website, footage of her more provocative speech has not surfaced online yet.
The uproar began when Salinas took the stage to kick off the College of Communication’s ceremony. It’s important to note that the College of Communications mostly awarded degrees yesterday to the baccalaureate programs of journalism, photo-communications, advertising, public relations and entertainment and tourism communications. Also, Cal State Fullerton is known to host a relatively diverse student body as shown in the university’s 2016 fact sheet.
Salinas’ speech was well-received until it became a little too Latino-centric for some and blatantly anti-Trump. The Univision broadcaster began specifically congratulating Latino journalism graduates for what seemed like a large chunk of her speech. She then began speaking in Spanish
and asked the crowd to repeat a few inspirational words after her, in Spanish. This left non-journalism grads and non-Latinos/non-Spanish speakers feeling excluded. Parents in the audience and even students in the ceremony began demanding Salinas switch to a more inclusive tone by shouting phrases such as, “What about us?!”
Tensions worsened as Salinas began offering advice to journalism students to use the tools of media to rebut political figures such as Donald Trump*. That’s when folks began yelling things to Salinas such as, “Get off the stage!” and “Trash!” Video of this moment is available here.
As the ceremony painfully continued, I sat in my chair cringing at both the spectators’ rude comments and Salinas’ brazen speech. The racial aggression experienced at the recent Trump rally in Costa Mesa was not something I wanted seeping into my graduation ceremony. But alas, reality sunk in, and audience members began booing Salinas while others combatted the voices of dissent with louder cheers.
Salinas seemed unfazed by the comments and finished her speech where she finally praised a variety of ethnic students other than Latinos, but the damage was done. When asked via Twitter what she thought of the crowd’s backlash, Salinas said she didn’t notice any aggression and added that perhaps racism fueled any crowd disapproval, to which an attendee disagreed with.
Immediately following Salinas’ speech, a Cal State Fullerton faculty member began listing off accolades achieved by the university. Maybe because he was fully aware of the racial tension in the crowd, the professor seemed hesitant to share that the university is number-one in awarding degrees to Latino students in California and fifth in the nation, something that Salinas proudly pointed out in her Instagram post. It was almost as if faculty
Finally, other speakers neutralized the environment with less controversial speeches. Then, graduates began to walk the stage to receive their diplomas and well-deserved glory. The moment of racial tension and political division subsided and everyone at Titan Stadium harmoniously celebrated all of CSUF’s 2016 College of Communication graduates—as quickly as the audience divided earlier in the ceremony, they united to cheer on their accomplished scholars. Everyone retained and kept their cool, of course, until they found themselves stuck in post-ceremonial exit traffic.
*Editor’s note: Salinas is publicly complaining that we misinterpreted her College of Communications speech incorrectly, and that she never attacked Trump. We never said she did; we specifically said that she “began offering advice to journalism students to use the tools of media to rebut political figures such as Donald Trump,” and that boo-birds popped up when she mentioned his name. Salinas’ quote we paraphrased—the one she said we misinterpreted—is as follows: “Thanks to technology, now we can prove that the candidate actually said what he or she said they didn’t say.” Sure sounds like advice to students about rebutting candidates! In the next breath, she mentioned Trump—and there you go.
Besides, Trump-hate was on her mind; in her campus-wide speech earlier that day, Salinas told the crowd that Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton “are the only choices” for president while flashing a smile, then followed up with praise for the graduates because “you are the ones who are going to build bridges, not walls,” while waiting for applause for the obvious dig at Trump’s wet dream. See the earlier sequence here.