Strategic Marketing and Communications

Climate Justice Leaders Initiative takes interdisciplinary approach to tackle multifaceted climate crisis

Climate Justice Leaders Initiative takes interdisciplinary approach to tackle multifaceted climate crisis

San Francisco State University launches its Climate Justice Leaders Initiative (CJLI) to better equip the University’s powerfully diverse student body to become climate justice leaders who center their work around equity. The overarching goal of the initiative is to build leaders who understand the inequities of climate change and who can advocate for and create strategies that include the communities most vulnerable to the climate crisis.

“Our campus is diverse, meaning many of our students have lived experiences of dealing with climate change inequities,” said Kai Burrus, co-director of the Climate HQ campus hub that promotes and supports climate-related activities across the University, including CJLI. “This initiative helps students draw from their experience and combine that with academic training to fight climate change on behalf of their communities across California and the world.”

CJLI is also interdisciplinary, bringing students and faculty together across different majors and academic colleges to address the climate crisis. The initiative is designed that way because climate change is a multifaceted, complex issue that requires people with different skills working together. Yet, people tend to work in siloes and those that have the skills critical to fighting climate change are often overlooked.

“We can’t depend exclusively on people in natural sciences and technology professions to address climate change. It’s an ‘everyone’ problem,” Burrus said. “We need to break those disciplinary barriers so that people across backgrounds can come together for one cause. Universities play a unique role in breaking down those siloes.”

Key CJLI programs that will roll out over the next five years include:

  • Climate Justice Education Certificate for pre-K-12 teaching: The 12-unit program will train aspiring teachers to understand and teach climate justice issues relevant to the communities they work with. It will also develop, test and share new approaches to climate justice education.

  • Expand the recently launched Interdisciplinary Certificate in Climate Change Causes, Impacts and Solutions: In Fall 2021, the University launched a certificate to give students a foundational understanding of the causes and effects of climate change along with mitigation and adaption solutions, with an emphasis on social justice. The University is now expanding the certificate to include a capstone experience so that students can get out of the classroom and apply what they learn toward real-life issues. One of those ways will be a newly developed service-learning class in which students become ambassadors who promote, communicate and take action on climate change within the campus and beyond.

  • Create a new Metro College Success Program advising pathway for climate change: Metro was developed to support students from historically marginalized backgrounds within their first two years of college. The program has proven to be a success as 64 percent of Metro students make it to their third year (compared to 55 percent of students who are not part of the Metro program and are also from historically marginalized backgrounds). To inspire more students from historically marginalized backgrounds to explore careers that address climate change, there will be a new advising pathway that steers Metro students to the Certificate in Climate Change Causes, Impacts and Solutions. 

  • Expansion of course offerings: CJLI also creates a framework for expanding the number of interdisciplinary courses across the University that have climate justice as a common theme, setting up a campus-wide approach to climate justice.

CJLI’s launch will be supported by a generous grant from SF State Foundation Board Chair and alumna Neda Nobari.

“These initiatives will catalyze change throughout the Bay Area and beyond, resulting in more effective climate change solutions that are truly comprehensive and inclusive. By focusing on transformative changes that center equity, CJLI aligns with what Neda sees as SF State’s vital contribution to the defining challenge of our time,” Burrus explained.

Faculty consulted a panel in developing CJLI that included students like senior Sophia Benzoni, an Environmental Studies and English double major. Benzoni contributed input for the first climate certificate as well by collaborating with faculty to weigh the climate focus of different courses and decide which ones would be good candidates for the certificate requirements.

“Going to the student panel and hearing that professors from all kind of walks of life and different areas of the campus were also on board with the ideas that students have was really encouraging,” she said. “Because I also think that working with different people from the campus community is way more effective than trying to do something alone.”

Learn more about the Climate Justice Leaders Initiative on the Climate HQ website.

Latinx Student Center director takes stock of his mission, National Hispanic Heritage Month

Emmanuel Padilla says his goal is to ‘authentically establish visibility for Latinx-identifying students’

On Sept. 14, one day before the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, San Francisco State University marked a milestone of its own: The University’s new Latinx Student Center officially opened its doors with a bienvenida/opening celebration. The center’s inaugural director, San Francisco native Emmanuel Padilla, might be relatively new on the job, but he’s already got lots of thoughts about Latinx students, San Francisco State and Latino culture and heritage. SF State News asked him to share some of those thoughts in a Q&A interview.

What’s the mission of the Latinx Student Center, and how’s it been going so far?

The mission of the Latinx Student Center is to authentically establish visibility for Latinx-identifying students.  My vision is for students to have autonomy when they come into the center, where they step into their comfort zones and develop a sense of agency needed to navigate higher education. Autonomy, authenticity and humor is the energy one feels at the center. The goal is for that energy to be translated to other parts of campus.

It has been going great. There is a lot of foot traffic at the center and students are taking ownership of it. I learn something new every day, and so do folks that visit the center. My intention is for students to not only come visit, but to come back.

Why do you think the Latinx Student Center is important?

Students need to be affirmed. Be it first-year students, transfer students or re-entry students, students need to be seen as people. Navigating higher education is confusing for all, especially those that identify as first-generation and/or first in their family to attend college. Thus, the Latinx Student Center is important to create a confidence and reaffirm identities.

What does National Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

Growing up in San Francisco and attending public school here, I knew that my education was skewed. My family is from Mexico, and I didn’t learn anything about my history or of authentic California history until I went to college. Saying that, this month serves as an accountability check for myself to promote not only the center, but the intersections of culture, art, history, food, language and experience.

The Latinx Student Center is located in Village C, Room 140. The center has been holding National Hispanic Heritage Month events each Wednesday at 4 p.m. Send an email to for details.  

Alum directs ‘The Murder Inc. Story’ docuseries on BET, and it’s a hit

SF State helped Michael J. Payton develop his love for hip-hop into a career

When San Francisco State University graduate Michael J. Payton posted a YouTube video about hip-hop record label Murder Inc. four years ago, he didn’t expect it would get him hired as director of the official docuseries for national television. But it did.

“The Murder Inc. Story” premiered on Black Entertainment Television (BET) on Aug. 9 and hit No. 3 trending on Twitter. Payton (B.A., ’15) directed all five of the one-hour episodes and interviewed icons such as Ja Rule, Jay-Z, Nas and Daymond John.

In early 2019, label founder Irv “Gotti” Lorenzo posted an all-points bulletin to his 1 million Instagram followers: “Whoever knows Michael Payton. Let him know to reach out to me. ‘Cause I am gonna let him be [a part] of the Big Official Documentary.”

That same night, they connected over the phone and Gotti tapped Payton to direct the series.

Murder Inc. recording artists like Ja Rule, Ashanti and Lloyd dominated the charts in the early 2000s, shattering Guinness World Records. Federal money laundering charges against Gotti and his brother would contribute to a fast downfall, though they were acquitted. The music retains legacy and influence, as it has for Payton since age 12.

“I remember being enamored with their mystique and the whole brand,” said Payton, who grew up in Oakland. “It’s really a story of hope [and] belief in oneself. That’s one of the things I’m most fascinated by with hip-hop culture. It was all from the minds of very young people who had nothing. If you believe and have a passion and work hard, you can change the world.”

An SF State vibe

After high school, Payton selected SF State for its audio production and music recording program in the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts (BECA) Department. He discovered a hip-hop community that would not only shape his career, but also provide him with a deep scholarly understanding of the genre that he loves.

He took Africana Studies courses with Dawn-Elissa Fischer, an anthropologist renowned for her research of hip-hop and other aspects of Black popular culture.

“He is a great communicator and peer educator,” Fischer said. “He created pathways and opportunities for many students, and he has continued to do so for those who came to SF State after him.”

In the Africana Studies Department’s Hip-Hop Workshop course, he served as assistant to Fischer and Dave “Davey D” Cook. Davey D and Payton reunited for “The Murder Inc. Story,” where Davey D appears as a historian.

“[Including him in the docuseries] was one of my proudest moments,” Payton said. “He was a big anchor for a lot of the cultural context in this story, and BET just loved him and his contribution.”

Commuting from Antioch, Payton would arrive on campus early in the morning and stay as late as possible. He was active in the Black Student Union and was general manager of student radio station KSFS and booked shows at The Depot. His weekly “Turn Up at The Depot” event allowed student rappers (including himself), DJs and bands to perform alongside notable artists. He was having the time of his life and recorded an EP titled “19th and Holloway.”

“There’s nothing like walking from Parkmerced to Stonestown late on a Friday night with your friends,” he said. “I wanted to capture that vibe in that EP. To this day, I still go back and listen to it and feel the same feels that I felt back then.”

The takeover

A scholarship from Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation helped make it possible for Payton to attend SF State. When they met for an interview for “The Murder Inc. Story,” Jay-Z was so excited that he called his mother when the cameras stopped rolling: “Mom, look at this young man who we put through school! He is now working with BET!’”

Payton is now working on a project for the Shawn Carter Foundation’s 20th anniversary. Payton is also slated to direct a docuseries about women’s contributions to hip-hop and executive produce a documentary about jailed drug lord Kenneth “Supreme” McGriff.

Payton emphasizes that he aims for all of his work to be a catalyst for change and community involvement. “I always want to make sure we’re able to weave in things that are going to start necessary conversations,” said Payton, who earned his master’s degree from New York University and served as an executive fellow for the governor’s California Volunteers initiative. “It’s not just these people [who] made cool music and this cool thing they did. No, let’s also dig deeper into these stories of why and how and give that cultural context.”

Learn more about the Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts Department.