Notes on the Community Action Summit

Paul J. Zingg, CSU, Chico PresidentBy Paul J. Zingg, CSU, Chico President

A remarkable and important event took place on the Chico State campus on Feb. 22. The catalyst for the event was a public letter, a Call to Action, issued in January by 28 leaders of our community’s civic, government, business, educational, health, and safety sectors and agencies, including me. The call brought over four hundred representatives of these groups together for an Action Summit to address issues of alcohol and drug abuse and many other matters impacting the wellness and quality of life of our community. The gathering also included about 150 students and several dozen parents of our students.

The tone for the day was set by four speakers: Chico Mayor Mary Goloff, retired sociology professor Walt Schafer (who had co-authored with former University President Manuel Esteban a powerful study in 2005 on drinking issues on our campus and in our community), Chico State Health Center medical chief of staff Deborah Stewart, and me.  We had not rehearsed our remarks, but we all struck the same central chords. First, we emphasized that understanding is a necessary requisite for effective and informed action. And we made it clear that we expected meaningful and consequential action to flow from the day’s conversations and exchanges. Second, we stressed that we were not here to wring our hands in frustration or desperation; not here to wag our fingers in rebuke or warning; not here to point our fingers to blame or demonize. We were here to define our threats and challenges; to listen, carefully and respectfully, to all points of view on what they are; and to raise expectations that we will address them.

What was especially remarkable about this event is that the speakers set the tone. But they did not establish the agenda. SummitMarkFinalRather, the format that was chosen was particularly designed to enable the attendees to talk about what they thought was important and to identify the solutions that they wished our community to pursue. And they did not hesitate to do so.

Fifty-six different topics were identified, many effectively and impressively articulated by our students.  It was another lovely reminder of how responsible our students can be, how thoughtful and engaged they often are when it comes to matters that affect their experience in Chico. The topics ranged from the low cost and plentiful availability of alcohol in our community to alcohol prevention, counseling, and education; from improving lighting in certain streets and neighborhoods to providing more alcohol-free entertainment and activities; from eliminating a Greek system at Chico State to taking steps to ensure that, if we have one, it is a national model; from communicating more clearly to prospective students and visitors our expectations for their social behavior in our town to ensuring that the residents of Chico set positive example in these regards; from emphasizing personal responsibility to promoting wellness as a community value.

I was struck, in particular, with how often the topic of wellness came up. Many linked wellness to some of the defining characteristics of our community, such as our commitment to the arts, outdoor recreation, a charming downtown, and sustainability. Others talked frankly about wellness as a value that represented a holistic gauge on the health of our community and our quality of life. Indeed, this was a discussion as much about wellness as goodness, and it felt very good to be a part of it.

I am always pleased when a discussion focuses on values.  For, after all, a community is formed around shared values, and a key mark of a community’s strength is the extent to which its enacted values are aligned with its professed values. This, of course, will be the test of both the Call to Action and the Community Summit—that is, translating good talk and best intentions into effective action and lasting commitments.

None of us—especially those who have been in these conversations before—are naïve enough to believe that one event will solve all of our community’s problems related to alcohol and drug abuse. But so many attendees told me that this one felt different. They were encouraged by the turnout, energized by the format, and hopeful of the next steps. Those next steps include a University-specific forum on alcohol and the establishment of several work groups to focus on the main issues that emerged at the summit and to identify and prioritize actions that we might take to address them.

This is an action-oriented agenda, as it must be. Its goal is not just to keep busy those members of our community and campus who are interested in the work before us but to ensure that our conversations positively impact our community, our neighborhoods, our streets, and our schools. Lives are in the balance. And Chico—the wellness community—understands this.

Paul J. Zingg


Disucssion Meet: More Than Just Another Competition

natalieBy Natalie Oelsner, Sophomore, Agriculture Education

When people asked me what I was competing in, they usually got a bit confused. Discussion meet? Is it a debate? A series of speeches? A presentation?

It’s actually something much more.

Discussion meet is an open-table discussion where competitors tackle questions that the Farm Bureau asks about topics such as immigration reform, education, and membership. The contestants are scored on content knowledge, effective conversation, facilitation, and being polite and congenial towards each other—the complete opposite of a hard-core debate

As I am someone who is super competitive, I didn’t think that this would be my strong suit.

I had heard of the contest through friends who had competed the year before, when a close friend of mine, Tino Rossi, dm3had won the National Collegiate contest in Michigan. I figured I should get involved and try it out. What was the harm in learning something new or improving my speaking skills?

I was thrilled to win the California State Collegiate Discussion Meet in Pasadena this past December! I was so thankful for my supportive College of Agriculture Discussion Meet teammates; our coaches and supporters Professor Mollie Aschenbrener, Development Director Sarah DeForest, and Dean Jennifer Ryder Fox; and the chance to compete at a national level.

I was also a bit hesitant. I wouldn’t know many people at the national conference, or what the skill level of the other competitors. Would I get knocked out the first round?

When it came to the competition at the National Young Farmers and Ranchers Contest in Phoenix, Arizona, I was prepared. I had studied my material, practiced opening statements, and talked to people in the industry. And once there, I realized that my competitors were college students just like me, and most importantly, they were nervous just like me.

dm2The competition consists of open-table discussion rounds. There are four to five people to a room and 20 minutes of discussion about one question presented. We are required to give opening and closing statements to the audience. Judges use a scorecard to judge attitude, content, and presentation.

I made it to the final round. After discussing our topic of agricultural education programs in public schools, I was relieved. No longer did I have to memorize facts or prepare. It was a weight lifted off my shoulders!

Even though I didn’t end up winning, I was so grateful for the experience. Coming from a non-ag background (not being involved in food production of any kind), I would have never thought I would get to walk across the stage with the other three top competitors.

But the experience was about more than being a competitor. I got to interact with farmers and ranchers from around the nation. I met woman from Louisiana who farmed rice, and we talked for an hour about issues and people. I met a group final4of women from Nevada who were the same age as me and were there to experience and grow and take ideas back to their farms. We also became Facebook friends that same day. I got to hang out with our dean and found we had so much in common. Being included with a community of people who lived for farming and feeding America was so amazing.

Most importantly, I had the most incredible person in the world with me who came to every round, with complete and utter support—my mom. We had a great trip together.