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Thursday, December 7, 2023

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Wood Family Gift Honors Dean Emeritus Joseph F. Johnson, Jr.

The Black Resource Center conference room will be named after the former College of Education dean, in recognition of a $30,000 gift from J. Luke Wood and Idara Essien-Wood.
By SDSU News Team

“He leads with kindness. He has a heart of gold and is just an amazing person.”

Serving in roles including professor of education leadership, dean of the College of Education and interim provost at San Diego State University over 16 years, Joseph F. Johnson, Jr. mentored and inspired numerous students — and faculty members.

Among them: J. Luke Wood, vice president for student affairs and campus diversity, who was a faculty member in the College of Education from 2011 and 2018, and Idara Essien-Wood, assistant professor of child family development, who first joined the college as a visiting faculty member in 2017.

So when the married couple began talking more than a year ago about pledging a gift to support SDSU’s Black community, they knew they wanted to make it in Johnson’s honor. 
“He is one of the most influential people I’ve had in my life,” Wood said. “And he’s done so much, not just for me, but for the entire Black community, particularly for those who are in the College of Education. He is a man who is deserving and worthy of honor, and we wanted to be able to acknowledge the incredible work that he’s done to support the Black community and other communities as well, and in transforming our campus into being a more just institution.”

The Wood family’s gift of $30,000 creates the Dr. J. Luke Wood and Dr. Idara Essien-Wood Multi Donor Fund, which will support the Black Resource Center Fund, Black Faculty and Staff Association Fund, Black Women in Academia Fund and Vice President of Student Affairs and Campus Diversity Alumni Engagement Fund. In recognition of the gift, the Black Resource Center conference room will be named the Joseph F. Johnson, Jr. Conference Room for as long as the building is in operation. The University Senate approved the proposed naming of the space, which is used for meetings, gatherings and programming, on Feb. 16. 

Johnson said he was “deeply honored and touched” when he learned of the plans.

“I think SDSU’s path to greatness is in being able to embrace and engage and empower remarkably diverse populations of students so that they can succeed — and I see the Black Resource Center as very tangible evidence of SDSU’s commitment to do that,” said Johnson.
“So I’m just excited that we have this center. And then to think that Luke and Idara have provided this gift with the idea of them naming a space within that center for me is phenomenal.”

A San Diego native and a master's degree graduate of SDSU, Johnson returned to SDSU in 2005 as a professor of education leadership and the founding executive director of the National Center for Urban School Transformation (NCUST) at the SDSU Research Foundation. He served as dean of the College of Education from 2013 to 2018, the interim dean of the College of Extended Studies from 2017 to 2018 and as interim provost of the university from 2018 to 2019. He retired in 2019 from university administration and will leave his NCUST position Aug. 31 to assume a part-time support role with the center. 

“He leads with kindness,” Essien-Wood said of Johnson. “He has a heart of gold and is just an amazing person.”

In addition to honoring Johnson, the Wood family was motivated to give in order to continue to foster a supportive environment for faculty and staff. 

“When President Adela de la Torre came in, we recognized that we needed to do more around supporting campus climate for our faculty and staff, many who have come from minoritized communities and felt isolated within such a large campus community,” Wood said. 

At the time there was only one employee resource group (ERG) that was operating informally, he noted. Today, SDSU has 15 ERGs serving more than 800 faculty and staff. Two of those ERGs — the Black Faculty and Staff Association (BFSA), and Black Women in Academia (BWA) — specifically focus on supporting faculty and staff within the Black community and will benefit from the Wood family’s gift.

“On behalf of the BWA, we are thrilled with not only the financial gift that Drs. Wood have given to SDSU, but also for the enormous contribution of time, energy, and leadership they have given to our university,” said the group’s leader Estella Chizhik, professor of educational psychology. “BWA, an organization where Black women faculty and staff can come together to support and celebrate each other, thrives because of Dr. Luke Wood’s efforts to ensure Black people are not alienated on this campus.”

Essien-Wood, a member of the BWA, wanted to support the group. “I’ve seen all the great work that they have done and that they are very much directly connected with the black women on campus, but more so that they’re very impactful,” she said. “I think that this is a way to reach out, to support them, and to know that there are people out there to support them as well.”

Supporting SDSU’s Black faculty and staff has always been important, Wood said. “But in the era of George Floyd, I think it is even more imperative to recognize those who are doing so much for our community, and oftentimes, even doing more than they should,” he said. “I think it's important to say there’s hidden service for those of us who are particularly Black faculty. And that service gives us life because it connects us to our community, but it also taxes us in a way that few others will understand. This is a way of recognizing that.”
Chris Turntine, president of the BFSA, said, “The gift to the BFSA from Dr. Wood and Dr. Essien-Wood is so much appreciated as it allows the BFSA to further expand on its mission of promoting cultural awareness and will allow the Association to further enhance collaboration and engagement within the Black community at SDSU."

The Wood family’s gift will also support student scholarships, ensuring that students have the financial means to be successful.

“As a student, I struggled with food insecurity and housing insecurity, and I know that many of our Black students do as well,” Wood said. “And it provides us just one additional pathway to ensure that students can experience this campus in a way that gives them dignity.”

“For the student community, I hope that it will serve as a direct way of conveying that we truly, authentically care about them and their success,” Wood said. “And that there are people on this campus, even those who may not be millionaires, who want to invest in them.”

“And hopefully,” Wood said, “it’ll spur others to give to our ERGs, to our Black Resource Center, and to the VP Excellence Fund as well.”