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San Diego State University

Office of Intercultural Relations

Conference Speakers




Dr. Tanis Starck

Director, Office of Intercultural Relations 


A native of Oakland, California, her story is unique. Starck earned a doctorate from Howard University and was a practicing psychologist both privately and at the university level, also having taught at several universities. She and her husband were displaced by hurricane Katrina, and then landed positions as emergency hires for San Diego State and ultimately, she created her own department within the university.  

“I was a professor at Tulane University when the hurricane hit, and we lost everything. I came here from Tulane right after the hurricane. My husband and I were hired as emergency hires and we lived on campus in the dorms for a whole year. Afterwards, we were then able to get a house.” 

Starck published a book about her experiences in Katrina titled, And Her Name Was Katrina: Life After the Storm. From this book, Starck has developed a class that addresses social justice and advocacy as it relates to national disasters and a variety of different issues. “I believe it’s something that all students can learn from because it deals with the educational impact of hurricane Katrina, the health impacts, political impacts and the whole cultural impact,” she says.  

Starck began her tenure at San Diego State as assistant dean of students and director of the centers for student involvement, but soon recognized a need among students who desired to become more culturally competent of the world in which they live. “When I first got here it was kind of a place where students hung out with no real structured programming. So I have developed it from the fall of 2006 to the present into a variety of things,” reflects Starck.  

“I was promoted to direct my own department, the Office of Intercultural Relations, a department that was developed for me by Dr. Kitchen, our Vice President of Student Affairs. Before that, the Cross Cultural Center was something that the university housed through student advocacy which was opened in 2003. But the students wanted to have their own department so that it could flourish and meet the needs of all the underrepresented student population on campus.”  

The Office of Intercultural Relations has a full-year, non-degree curriculum developed which gives students an opportunity to expand their knowledge and prepare themselves for a professional practice in all cultural diversity settings. 



Dr. Elliot Hirshman

President, San Diego State University 


Elliot Hirshman serves as president of San Diego State University, San Diego’s oldest and largest university.  He joined SDSU in July 2011, and is only the eighth president in SDSU’s 116-year history.  Building on a strong tradition, Dr. Hirshman leads a dynamic university community committed to addressing regional, national and global challenges and propelling California and our nation forward.  With Dr. Hirshman at the helm, SDSU is advancing as a major public research university, emphasizing academic excellence, student success, community engagement, diversity, and internationalization.

Leadership Starts Here

Dr. Hirshman is actively committed to student success and ensuring that students from all backgrounds achieve academic excellence.  At SDSU he leads an institution recognized for the largest increase in graduation rates in the U.S. and one that is among the nation’s leaders for graduating students of color.  Dr. Hirshman also believes deeply in the power of our public research universities to transform lives.  As president, he oversees a talented community of SDSU faculty and staff who are nationally recognized for their research accomplishments, their mentoring of the next generation of leaders and their commitment to addressing our society’s challenges. He is currently leading the university’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign, a campaign designed to transform the university by supporting student scholarships, research and innovation, and community engagement.

Prior Experience

Dr. Hirshman’s career has been distinguished by his dedication to excellence in teaching, research and service.  Prior to joining SDSU, he served as provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Dr. Hirshman was responsible for the delivery of the academic program, including instruction, research, and academic support services; enrollment management, including admissions and financial aid; and the intercollegiate athletics program.  Dr. Hirshman oversaw the campus planning process, working with vice presidents and the Planning Leadership Team to coordinate planning and budgeting for the university.

Dr. Hirshman served as chief research officer at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C.  Previously, he chaired the departments of psychology at George Washington University (2002-05) and the University of Colorado at Denver (2000-02).

He began his academic career at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1989-2000), where he served as assistant, associate, and ultimately full professor of psychology.  While at Chapel Hill, Dr. Hirshman was nominated for the American Council on Education Fellows Program, in which he participated as a fellow in the provost’s office at Arizona State University.  Subsequently, he served as special assistant to the provost at Chapel Hill.  He chaired a number of major campus groups, including the University Task Force on Student Evaluation of Teaching at Chapel Hill and the Advisory Council on Research at George Washington.

Academic Background

Dr. Hirshman has a strong interdisciplinary background, having earned his undergraduate degree summa cum laude in economics and mathematics from Yale and his master's degree and Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from UCLA.  His research and teaching focus on the psychopharmacology of human cognition, exploring cognitive and quantitative models of memory, attention and visual perception, and the influence of individual drugs on specific cognitive processes.  His interdisciplinary work involves collaboration among psychologists, medical doctors, and statisticians.  A fellow of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Hirshman has served as associate editor of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition (2000-2006) and Psychonomic Bulletin & Review (1998-2000).


Dr. Hirshman is married to Jeri Hirshman. The Hirshmans’ children, Wendy and Nathan, are both honors students.  Wendy attends Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania. Nathan attends the University of Virginia.




Sean Sala

National Gay, Social and Sexual Rights Activist


Sean Sala is a national gay, social and sexual rights activist. He was the organizer of the 2011 Active Duty Military March in San Diego in which over 250 active duty Military marched in San Diego Pride while Don't Ask Don't Tell was still national law. He also was an organizer and liaison for the 2012 Active Duty Military March in which he pressured top Military brass resulting in the Pentagon issuing a historical first time blanket certification and approved the United States Military to wear their full uniforms for the first time in a pride parade in US history; where over 450 military personnel participated. He formally was on the national leadership committee of  Servicemembers United the nations largest LGBT military organization, where he participated in a White House Executive office meeting on Southern California and Gay Military issues and sparred in national news against anti-gay Republican Congressman opposed to Gay troops. He also advocated for troops battling PTSD to the San Diego City Council. He has been featured on the 'Real World,' MTV sponsored internet casts on gay rights, local, national and international news and an official Library of Congress documentation on the DADT repeal movement. He is a popular blogger and a columnist for San Diego Gay and Lesbian News. 

After resigning from Servicemembers United he is in progress of challenging the top ten Mega Churches in United States to denounce Uganda's Parliament from executing gays and he is the chief organizer of the San Diego rally on March 25th to demand the Supreme Court to rule for full federal marriage equality. 

He served in the United States Navy six years for Naval Intelligence, three combat tours and is an Iraq war Veteran. 


Tita Gray  

Lecturing Professor, College of Business  San Diego State University 


Tita Gray is a Lecturing Professor at San Diego State University in the College of Business Administration where she teaches Organizational Behavior and Leadership.   She is also the President of Gray Gilliam Company a coaching and consulting firm specializing in Career and Life Coaching and Organizational Development.

She currently serves on the Advisory Board for The Arc of San Diego – serving people with intellectual disabilities, she is a former board member of the San Diego LGBT Center, provides leadership to the Office of Congresswoman Susan Davis, and is the Leadership Institute Co-chair for the American Association of Blacks in Energy.  Ms. Gray holds a Bachelors degree from Baruch College in NYC, a MBA from San Francisco State University, and a Life and Career Coach Certificate from the Life Purpose Institute.  Tita writes articles and blogs on leadership, organizational behavior, and professional development on her website and is currently writing her first book on Informal Leadership.  She is a 2012 recipient of the San Diego State University Mortar Board award and has been a guest lecturer at San Francisco State University, San Jose State University, and the University of California Santa Clara. 



Washington Navarrete

AS Diversity Commissioner 


Washington Navarrete is a fourth year student at San Diego State University majoring in Criminal Justice with a minor in Chicana/o Studies. He is a first generation college student and was born and raised in Los Angeles, CA residing in the communities of South Central and East Los Angeles.

Being involved with different spaces on campus such as cultural organizations and more specifically M.E.Ch.A de SDSU, the Student Diversity Commission, Associated Students Council, and the Office of Intercultural Relations, Washington has been able to foster a passion for both Diversity and Activism. Currently serving as the Diversity Commissioner of Associated Students, member of the GreenFest Executive Committee, and student designee on one of the Task Forces for San Diego State University’s Strategic Plan, Washington without a doubt has Aztec Pride. These are only a few of his campus leadership roles! Despite the various organizations he is involved in, there is one thing in common between them all … Washington is fully committed to empower all Aztecs! He loves giving back to his community and continues to serve, build relationships and grow through his leadership.

With the leadership he has acquired while at San Diego State University, Washington strive to address issues faced amongst underrepresented students at SDSU. His work as a scholar activist aims to not only shed light on the realities of these students but to help develop safe spaces on campus that students can go to.