On Friday, March 4, 2016, California state Senator Ricardo Lara came to UC Riverside to lead “A Conversation with CA Senator Ricardo Lara: Diversity & Leadership in Public Service” in HUB 355.

Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox was expected to speak at the event, but was unable to make an appearance. In his place, Founding Dean of the UCR School of Public Policy (SPP) Anil B. Deolalikar opened the seminar. UC Student Regent-Designate Marcela Ramirez also made remarks before the conversation about the diversity that she experienced in school while growing up in Pomona. Afterward, Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate dean of the SPP, spoke about Lara and later moderated the remainder of the conversation.

Lara grew up in East Los Angeles with four siblings and was the child of undocumented parents who had come from Mexico. Lara went on to attend San Diego State University and pursued politics post-graduation. After Lara was elected as a senator in 2012, he became the first openly gay person of color to be elected into the California Senate.

Before Lara began speaking, a brief video was presented in Spanish with English subtitles that looked back on his childhood life.

Lara started off by explaining the diversity that exists in the state of California and how it fosters the seventh-largest economy in the world. “A diverse university is exactly what we need in order to succeed as a state,” he elaborated. “Having a diverse group of elected officials makes a difference. Just like it matters when women assert themselves and get elected to positions of power.”

Lara identified the inclusion of Proposition 187 in the 1994 elections as the moment that he became politicized. According to Lara, the proposition made the hatred toward undocumented workers more palpable and helped him realize that action does make a difference. Afterward, Lara began working as chief of staff to Assemblyman Marco Antonio Firebaugh.

Attending university and understanding the history of his background has had a profound influence on Lara’s life. After his college experiences of being in a diverse environment, Lara felt that he had a responsibility to make sure that not only his siblings were able to attend college, but also to ensure that “everyone has a fair shot to go to school.”

“I think Senator Lara brings up a lot of interesting points that we need to consider about diversity, and really recognizing the fact that movements like ‘Black Lives Matter’ are not exclusive to just African-Americans,” expressed first-year public policy and history double-major Daniel Castaneda. “And that it’s more of a community that we need to be building, so examining the fact that it’s not us versus them, but rather all of us together in this fight to make sure that people are equally represented and feel that they’re understood and considered in society because it’s easy to marginalize a group because ‘oh they’re not as common here as in California’ or ‘they’re not as well-represented in the university setting.”