For Carole Goldsmith, her recent appointment as Fresno City College’s new president is a homecoming. When she left Fresno Unified to marshal a period of tremendous growth for West Hills Community College District, she just couldn’t sell the Tower District home she and her partner raised their two children in. Now, she’s moving back in.
Goldsmith hopes to bring stability to the leadership at Fresno City, the state’s oldest community college. Beloved President Tony Cantú died unexpectedly just over a year ago. Former President Cynthia Azari stepped in on an interim basis but then left to assume the presidency of Oxnard College. Cheryl Sullivan, the college’s vice president of administrative services, took the helm during the search for a new president.
Goldsmith’s first step? She said it’s listening.
“First of all, there’s no right way or wrong way to do this,” Goldsmith said. “But a lot of new presidents have a specific agenda when they come in. I plan to listen to all the great people at this college and in this community for the first 60 days.”
Goldsmith plans to embark on a whirlwind of private and public meetings with as many people as possible: students, staff, faculty, religious leaders, city leaders and anyone else willing to have “coffee with Carole,” as she calls it. She believes that Fresno City College is more than an educational institution – it’s a place where people can gather and discuss possible solutions to many of the world’s problems.
“We are in some unprecedented times,” she said. “This campus has always been a bastion of diversity. People can meet here and talk about different things.”
Goldsmith acknowledged it is a bit of a cliché to bring up a quote often inaccurately attributed to Gandhi when talking about these subjects, but she feels it is important: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Fresno City College President Carole Goldsmith hopes to formally announce her vision for Fresno City College’s future within her first 100 days on the job.
When Goldsmith spoke at the open forum for Fresno City’s three final presidency candidates, she mentioned walking through the campus and finding several spots adorned with rainbows that indicated a safe space for all. She said then that she hoped to grow those safe spaces even further if selected as the new president.
She knows all about the challenges faced by members of Fresno’s diverse communities.
“I am proud to stand with my brothers and sisters of the LGBTQ community,” Goldsmith said.
Goldsmith said she dealt with prejudice in a different way than a person of color might.
“People don’t automatically dislike me,” she said. “But I have had it happen. People find out (about her sexual orientation) and treat you differently. My partner and I were denied rental properties. I’ve lost jobs.”
She continued: “But I’ve seen change in the last 10 years that I never thought I’d see in my lifetime.”
Goldsmith’s children, both Fresno High School graduates, also had to weather the country’s slow churn towards equality.
“My daughter went to Hamilton (Elementary School in Fresno),” she said. “And she was drawing her family like kids do. She drew her house, her mom, her brother and her Carole. And someone asked her, ‘Where’s your daddy?’ And she said right back, ‘Well, where’s your Carole?’ ”
That daughter, Chelsea, also worked to form the first Gay-Straight Alliance at Fresno High School. Now 24, she lives in San Luis Obispo and is an artist. Goldsmith’s son, Chad, is now 25. He is a U.S. Army veteran who is working on a pest control adviser associate’s degree from West Hills. She has one grandson.
Goldsmith believes there is still work to be done – and Fresno City College students and staff can do it – to promote tolerance.
“There’s still intolerance about race, class, religion and sexual identity in this country,” she said. “The coming-out process is so difficult. You don’t just do it once – you do it over and over throughout your life. First it’s your friends, then your parents, then coworkers and so on. Each time you risk the loss of a loved one.”
The coming-out process is so difficult. You don’t just do it once – you do it over and over throughout your life. First it’s your friends, then your parents, then coworkers and so on. Each time you risk the loss of a loved one.
Carole Goldsmith, new president of Fresno City College
Goldsmith hopes to make Fresno City College an even safer place for the hundreds of teens and 20-somethings going through tough times in their personal lives as they attend college there.
“This is what college is for – expanding your mind,” she said. “We don’t all have to approve of each other’s lifestyles, but we do have to work together as a society. The world is crazy. Students need to be able to talk these things through.”
Part of Goldsmith’s listening plans is a sit-down meeting with Fresno police Chief Jerry Dyer, Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims and Fresno fire Chief Kerri Donis. One of the top priorities for the State Center Community College District is building a new training academy for law enforcement and firefighters. The district recently passed a $485 million bond measure in the June election.
“(Passing the bonds) was a huge vote of confidence from the voters,” Goldsmith said. “We need to work with everyone to do what’s best for the voters.”
She added that it was important the four agencies – police, fire, sheriff and the college – work together to create the next generation of first responders.
It won’t be her first time meeting any of them. Goldsmith is already pretty engrained in the community through her decades of work with Fresno Unified – first as a substitute teacher before climbing the administrative ranks – and West Hills. Fresno State President Joseph Castro was her professor in graduate school and served on her dissertation committee when she earned her doctorate, for example.
Goldsmith moved to Visalia in the eighth grade and has spent most of her life since then in the central San Joaquin Valley. She credits several teachers who identified her learning disability early with being the reason why she always wanted to teach and educate.
Although Goldsmith initially shied away from giving any specific plans until after her 60-day listening campaign is over, she did offer a possible solution to the problems faced by the college’s nursing program, which is badly impacted with somewhere around 600 people on its enrollment waiting list. She plans on sharing her platform for Fresno City’s future by her 100th day as president.
“I remember the college used to partner with local hospitals, but it isn’t doing that anymore,” Goldsmith said. “We have to partner with these employer groups.”
She widened her scope further.
“I believe in the stone soup approach,” Goldsmith said. “I might have fire, a pot and some water, but maybe you have a potato and you have a carrot. I bet a lot are here.”