Pulitzer Prize-winning alum appointed CSU Trustee

Author: Jamie Oppenheim , SF State News
August 5, 2022
Jose Antonio Vargas

Immigration rights advocate brings his perspective to CSU leadership

Jose Antonio Vargas (B.A., ’04) became the voice for undocumented immigrants back in 2011 after coming clean about a closely guarded secret — he was not a U.S. citizen — in a New York Times essay he wrote about his life. Since then, he’s become an outspoken advocate for the undocumented, publishing a memoir and producing documentaries on the subject before founding his own media advocacy nonprofit Define America. And now the Gator is taking his advocacy back to the place that nurtured him as a young adult: the California State University (CSU).

Governor Gavin Newsom appointed Vargas to the CSU Board of Trustees Friday, July 22. Pending State Senate approval, he will join the 25-member board in adopting policies and regulations that govern the CSU system in areas such as educational policy, finance and campus planning. Lawyer and philanthropist Leslie Gilbert-Lurie was also appointed to serve as a CSU Trustee.

“These leaders from diverse backgrounds, walks of life and California regions bring a broad swath of expertise and experience to our world-class colleges and universities at a pivotal time for our state,” said Governor Newsom. “I look forward to continuing our work in partnership with the state’s higher education leaders to expand access to more students, create debt-free pathways, eliminate equity gaps and increase opportunities for the next generation of leaders to achieve their dreams and build a brighter future for our state.”

Following the governor’s announcement Vargas turned to social media to express gratitude for the appointment. “CSUs are home to thousands of immigrant students and students of immigrant families from all backgrounds,” he said. “As a proud graduate of San Francisco State — Class of 2004, before there was DACA, when the Dream Act was 3 years old, when there was little vocabulary and support for undocumented students and our families — I am honored, humbled, and excited. Let’s go.”

The older he gets the more he says he values the education he received in California public schools. “Joining the CSU board is my way of giving back. And we must give back in whatever way we can,” he said. “Because of its size, CSU is home to a truly diverse student body, which includes undocumented students of all backgrounds. My hope is to represent the diversity of the entire student body, and it’s crucial to remember that a student’s immigration status is only one part of that student’s humanity.”

Vargas came to the United States. from the Philippines when he was 12 years old. As his life unfolded, he navigated school, then college and work without proper documentation, eventually earning a degree in Political Science from SF State. After graduating, Vargas worked as a journalist at numerous well-known publications, including The Washington Post, Huffington Post and The San Francisco Chronicle, until going public about his immigration status in 2011. He later shifted the direction of his career to advocate for people in similar situations.

He produced “Documented,” a film about his experience navigating life as an undocumented immigrant, and explored the same topic in his bestselling 2019 memoir “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen.” In 2012, he established a nonprofit media advocacy organization, Define America, which works to change the narrative on immigration in the United States.