College of Humanities Newsletter Volume 11 Issue 2

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From the Desk of Dean Elizabeth A. Say

Elizabeth A. Say, Ph.D.Elizabeth A. Say, Ph.D.
CSUN Alum 1981

In a 2013 study, the folks at Google discovered — to their surprise — “that among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others’ different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas” (Cathy N. Davidson, The Washington Post, Dec. 20, 2017). In other words, the so-called “soft skills” students develop while studying Humanities majors and minors are critical to success regardless of potential career paths. Two College of Humanities alumni will be recognized at the 2018 CSUN Distinguished Alumni Awards—one for his contributions to law and social justice as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, and the other for her innovation and leadership in banking as the chairperson and CEO of Montecito Bank and Trust. Also featured in this issue is an English professor partnered in a $1.1 million grant-funded project using “big data” to investigate the Humanities, training our students to use 21st-century digital tools in critical new applications along the way. Finally, you’ll hear from a Chicana/o Studies faculty member who’s curating her third exhibition for the Petersen Automotive Museum, exploring the intersection of arts, culture, and America’s love of the automobile. As George Anders wrote in the August 17, 2015 issue of Forbes, “With a liberal arts degree in hand, you will be ready for anything.”

The Hon. D. Zeke Zeidler to Receive Distinguished Alumni Award

Submitted by Teresa Morrison

Honorable Zeke Zeidler in his chanbers The Honorable Zeke Zeidler in his chambers

The CSUN Alumni Association announced its first Distinguished Alumni Award back in 1981. In years since the Association has singled out scores of Matadors for the honor from among CSUN’s 350,000-strong lifetime graduate body, showcasing the University’s impact on the personal and professional lives of individuals, and highlighting the profound contributions of CSUN grads to regional and national business, education, arts, and culture.

Distinguished Alumni Award recipients in 2018 include the Honorable D. Zeke Zeidler, a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court. Judge Zeidler ’87 (English), a friend and booster of the College of Humanities, notes his delight in joining the ranks of Distinguished Alumni honorees such as Frank del Olmo, Irene Tovar, the Honorable Linda Lingle, Cheech Marin, Larry Feldman, Bill Imada, and Judy Baca. “What they all have in common is the ongoing commitment to better our society, while also continuing to find time to support the wonderful work going on at CSUN,” says Zeidler. “I can only hope that I have been able to make a small fraction of the impact that each of them has.”

Judge Zeidler truly exemplifies the Matador spirit of reaching beyond himself to make his community a better, more welcoming space for all. As a student, both at CSUN and at Loyola Law School, as a lawyer, as a judge, and as a citizen he has fought for equity and diversity, urging personal and institutional responsibility in ethical decision making. He has invested his energy and influence in causes as diverse as divestiture in apartheid-era South Africa, sanctuary for displaced Central Americans, voter registration and campaign support, environmental protection and safety, affordable housing for seniors, gender equity and parity, and expanded services for disabled persons. Along the way he has fought against gender discrimination and violence.

Certainly not least among Zeidler’s social justice concerns, he has made tremendous strides alongside and on behalf of LGBT individuals. In 1984, while a student senator at CSUN, he came out as gay in the campus newspaper. The concept of “coming out” may strike some CSUN students today as quaint by the standards of their generation. But the present state of relative acceptance among peers of different sexual orientations must be recognized as a dividend of dues exacted from gays and lesbians of Zeidler’s generation, many of whom paid a personal or professional price for their desire to live openly. Happily, Zeidler’s talents and determination outmatched these social challenges: The same year he came out in the campus newspaper he was elected student body president. 

Zeidler attributes his effectiveness as a career activist to his formative years in student leadership. “Whether lobbying in Sacramento with statewide student leaders, impacting local government with the Los Angeles Collegiate Council, or working on campus issues with the Associated Students, the level of professionalism really was amazing,” Zeidler says. “When I transitioned to political involvement off campus, including lobbying on gay, lesbian, and AIDS issues in Sacramento, I had already gained valuable experience, as well as strong relationships with many elected officials, and those relationships have continued on for decades.” 

Judge Zeidler has continued throughout his life to promote visibility and equality for LGBT communities at regional, national, and international levels. Notably, after ascending to the bench of the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 2005—the first openly gay man ever elected to the position—he would serve four terms as president of the International Association of LGBT Judges. 

Perhaps Zeidler’s most profound impact has been felt in his advocacy on behalf of abused and neglected children, the cornerstone of his law career prior to the bench. His judicial career commenced upon being appointed as a juvenile court referee in 1998, and his caseload has concentrated on the welfare of children since his election as a Superior Court judge. Zeidler, who was also elected to multiple terms on the Redondo Beach School Board and served as its president, prizes education highly and encourages kids to overcome difficult circumstances through academic achievement and literacy. He is in turn encouraged by the hope and progress he has personally witnessed as an attorney and judge in the child welfare system. “I have been able to see children flourish and thrive in the most trying of situations,” he says, “and I have seen parents overcome tremendous odds to improve their lives and strengthen their families.” 

His influence is magnified through his training and mentorship of newly appointed or elected judges. In this capacity he takes special care in stressing fair and ethical treatment for all who come through the court system. He credits his time at CSUN, particularly his interdisciplinary studies for a women’s studies minor, with having opened his eyes to the idea that so much of our history has been recorded in a “narrow and exclusionary manner,” leaving it to us to “question our sources of information, be constantly vigilant, and serve as beacons of a larger, more inclusive truth.” Such revelations have been extraordinarily relevant and resonant in his judicial career. Having chaired the committee that creates anti-bias curriculum for judicial officers and court staff throughout California, his training synthesizes judicial courses with competencies in LGBT domestic violence, juvenile protections, and diversity among cultural attitudes and practices—all topics he has addressed on national platforms through speaking engagements and workshop presentations. Asked what it means to him to be recognized in this way by the Alumni Association, Judge Zeidler is characteristically humble. “For me the Distinguished Alumni Award is a vote of confidence in my own efforts to make a difference,” he says, “but it also energizes me to do even more in order to live up the award.” 

Among many previous honors, Judge Zeidler is the recipient of the Stonewall Democratic Club’s Lifetime Achievement Award and Education Works’ Foster Youth Education Service Award. He resides in Los Angeles with his husband, attorney Jay Kohorn, the assistant director of the California Appellate Project.