Pitzer College welcomed California State Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León PZ ’03 back to campus for a round-table discussion with students, staff, faculty, and community members on Thursday, Oct. 4.
Student Body President Josue Pasillas PZ ’17 said that the Senate executive board is excited to have de León back on campus.
“It’s someone to look up to as a student at Pitzer College, seeing that it’s a former Pitzer College student now being one of the leaders of the fifth largest economy,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to learn about his time here at Pitzer, and where his Pitzer education has taken him is really exciting to see being in this position.”
During the event, de León spoke about a variety of issues, including the climate, economy, immigration, and education. He said that the policies he has put forth in the state senate and those they had moved forward with would “ensure that everyone has equal opportunity and access.”
De León also discussed the importance of higher education in influencing his perspective on life. As the youngest child of a single mother, he was the first in his family to graduate from high school and the first to go to college.
“Higher education was a life changing experience for me, and having such great professors was very transformative for me coming from a household that had no college experience,” he said in his talk to the Pitzer community.
According to de León, his goal in his talk was to motivate young students that want to participate in public policy to believe that they can make a difference.
“Pitzer College, I believe, is the only college in the state and even in the country that has produced a speaker as well as a president of the senate, and I think a lot of folks from Pitzer should be very proud of the type of a students they produce and [should know] that they could really make a difference,” he said in an interview with TSL.
Pasillas added that it was important to stimulate an on-campus dialogue on political issues, especially given the Pitzer value of civic engagement.
“I think that having students engaged is very important, and college teaches us knowledge from academia, but I think that something that college misses out on is teaching us civic engagement,” he said. “So it’s always important and critical to have time to engage with civic leaders.”
The talk was met with protest from several community members who came to the event to voice their opinions about de León’s policies. One member called de León “a liar, just like Hillary.”
De León, however, appreciated discussing his policies with these community members.
“I really enjoy engaging with the faculty, with the students, with the workers and even with the folks who have a contrarian perspective on issues that are really controversial for a lot of folks—there’s climate change and there’s the issue of immigration. These are highly contentious issues,” he said. “But it’s OK and it’s good and it’s healthy to have discussions and different perspectives.”
Overall, the audience’s views of the event were positive. Sam Horowitz PZ ’20 said that having the senator come to Pitzer was exciting not only because of his alumnus status, but also because of his status as a role model.
“He’s someone who has gone to Pitzer who you can see doing really important things in the state and creating change, and being a leader in the environment and immigration and upholding Pitzer values,” he said.
De León believes that it is important for successful Pitzer alumni to engage with current students.
“I think it’s important that successful alumni return back to their roots and show their successes and be helpful to the students of Pitzer College and create this community where at Pitzer, even if we’ve graduated and gone on to other things in our lives, we’re all interconnected with each other as we work together to improve the human condition,” he said.
De León’s talk was a part of the Mindful of the Future series, which Student Senate started last year in order to bring high profile political leaders and journalists to campus.
“The goal of the series is to facilitate dialogue on campus around social and political issues amongst students, staff, and faculty,” Pasillas said.
After the talk, De León spoke at the Robert Redford Conservancy Air Quality Summit about California’s strides in combatting global warming.
“We’re going to keep moving forward and keep making history until every single Californian can breathe clean air, drink clean water, and can power their homes, businesses, and cars with clean energy until the California example is new global norm,” he said at the summit.