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The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

Fresno State's student-run newspaper

The Collegian

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Cross-Cultural and Gender Center welcomes new director, Varselles Cummings

Courtesy of Varselles Cummings
Varselles Cummings, new director of the Cross Cultural and Gender Center at Fresno State. Cummings returns to Fresno after nearly two decades away with experience in student affairs and higher education.

The Cross-Cultural and Gender Center at Fresno State welcomed a new director this semester, Varselles L. Cummings.

The CCGC serves as an office on campus aimed at increasing diversity and ensuring all students feel equally included.

The director’s role is to help foster a sense of community to the staff of the CCGC and the campus as a whole.

“I want for the campus community, and more specifically students, to see the center as well as myself as a resource and support, and also as an avenue to learn more about issues of diversity, equity and inclusion,” Cummings told The Collegian.

Cummings is a Fresno native who graduated from Edison High School in 2004.

He received his bachelor’s degree in mass media communications from Wilberforce University, a historically Black college in Ohio, in 2008. He proceeded to work as an admissions counselor there for two years, which jump-started his career in higher education.

In 2012, he attended San Diego State University, where he earned his master’s degree in postsecondary educational leadership with a specialization in student affairs.

“I feel like another strength in this more personality wise is that I’m pretty approachable and easy to talk to, which oftentimes makes it easy for students, staff and faculty to come and have a conversation and that I am a student of the work,” he said. “So it’s not just because I’m a Black man and I want to run a cross-cultural center, but that I have done this work and then I also studied this work.”

That same year, Cummings made the move to Texas, where he stayed for almost 12 years to continue his work at different institutions. He first accepted a position as hall director at Texas Christian University, working there three years.

An opportunity later opened up at Texas A&M University for an intercultural specialist in the Department of Multicultural Services. As an intercultural specialist, he worked in advising within programs like the Aggie Black Male Connection, the Black Student Alliance Council and the Southwest Black Student Leadership Conference.

His most recent occupation was serving as director of the Center for Diversity at the University of Houston.

Totaling over 15 years of experience in higher education and student affairs, Cummings returns to the Valley with a longing to be closer to family.

“I was home in Fresno for about six months out of 2023 and at that time, I just learned some things that were going on with family and [I] had a desire to be closer,” Cummings said. “And as I was job searching, I saw that this job was available and just kind of applied on a whim.”

Following his interview, Cummings said it felt like the right time and the right place.

Rashanda Booker, inaugural university diversity officer, said that she has faith in Cummings because of his immense experience in education.

“Director Cummings has hit the ground running,” she said. “His experience in higher education and Fresno being his hometown has eliminated the largest portion of the learning curve when starting a new position.”

She told The Collegian that she is excited about the partnership the two of them will have because it will bridge their offices together.

“I am excited to work because of Director Cummings’ experience in higher education, specifically in student affairs and EDIB (equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging),” Booker said. “I am also excited because we have the same ideals and commitment to service. We just get each other.”

His main hope is to fortify the CCGC. He said he plans to honor the legacies of former staff members and directors of the center, especially the legacy of Francine Oputa, former CCGC director, who died in the fall.

“The way that I hope to make an impact on campus is to really revitalize the Cross Cultural and Gender Center,” Cummings said. “I know with COVID happening and the transition and staff members that have been there, as well as it being now under the new division of equity engagement, there are some things that need to happen to bring it back to its former glory.”

Cummings said Fresno State already has the components to be great. His vision for community on campus is for people to support each other, and students, faculty and staff to feel a sense of belonging.

Community and diversity are vitally important to him because he said it is what ultimately leads to the retention of students.

“The importance of it is that if we are not respecting identities, respecting the difference that exists, then it makes it difficult to retain students,” Cummings said. “If we’re not respecting and celebrating and embracing the diversity that comes to this campus by making policies that are equitable for all involved, then we run the risk of losing out on a lot of that diversity.”

Kathy Moua, assistant coordinator at the CCGC, is especially excited about the inviting and friendly atmosphere Cummings presents.

“The director, like all the staff members, is always happy to meet students,” Moua said. “Our doors are open and we love it when students stop by to talk to us. I know that Director Varselles will be a warm and friendly person that students will enjoy getting to know.”

Along with his strengths and experience in student affairs and postsecondary education, Cummings’ challenge lies within the fact that he didn’t attend Fresno State and is unfamiliar with the campus.

However, he says he is up to the test.

“While I am from Fresno, I didn’t spend a lot of time on campus and don’t know a lot about some of the politics that exist here at Fresno State,” he said. “So while that may be something that I have to overcome, I do believe that it’s something that I will be able to do.”

Returning to his hometown has allowed Cummings to learn to balance work and family responsibilities at the same time.

He says having his family so close is a unique experience, but it is also proving to be a new adjustment because these commitments are something that he hasn’t had in nearly two decades.

“All of my family’s here, which is unique,” Cummings said. “I’ve not worked professionally in Fresno, so it’s been interesting adjusting to having family responsibilities and working at the same time. But part of my process right now being back home full-time is building that community outside of my family because I do have a very strong family.”

Some of the things he looks forward to the most about working here are all of the annual student events Fresno State hosts each semester.

“I know there are a lot of signature events that happen during the spring like Vintage Days, so I’m really looking forward to seeing that,” he said.

Cummings doesn’t have a set time frame for how long he will work here, but he plans to be here as long as he can continue to provide something to Fresno State.

“I plan to be here as long as it makes sense,” Cummings said. “As long as it makes sense and I feel like I can still contribute, I will be here unless other opportunities presents itself.”

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