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State community college system picks first woman and first Asian to lead

Sonya Christian is the current Kern County Community College chancellor. | Courtesy California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office

Sonya Christian made history Thursday as she was appointed chancellor of the California Community Colleges. The largest such network in the nation, it currently operates 116 schools across the state, serving more than 1 million students.

Christian, 56, is an immigrant from India and the current chancellor of Kern Community College District in Bakersfield. She will be the first woman and the first person of Asian descent to lead the system, which is struggling to hire more teachers with diverse ethnic backgrounds and a declining enrollment.

“I am honored to be selected to lead the most important system of higher education in the country,” Christian said in a statement. “We continue to face many challenges, but I truly believe our greatest challenges enable us to do our greatest work.”

Also on Thursday, the California State Auditor’s Office released a report showing that diversity among faculty members in the community college system remains a challenge, especially between Hispanic students and faculties.

The report comes at a time when racial demographics in higher education have come under renewed scrutiny. Its data, based on the 2021-22 academic year, show that even as Hispanics and Latinos comprise only 18% of the faculty, 47% of students are Hispanic or Latino. Asian, Black and Pacific Islander teachers are relatively proportional to the demographics of the student population, but the percentage of white faculty members is far higher than the system’s percentage of white students.

The system is also struggling with a steep drop in enrollment since the pandemic, reaching both rural colleges in the state’s north to campuses in highly urbanized Southern California. About 70% of students are considered low-income.

Gilbert Wong, a community college trustee from the South Bay and a longtime friend of Christian’s, said he’s proud to see an Asian American serve as chancellor.

“I think it’s very important to have an Asian woman chancellor as the students are mostly people of color,“ Wong said. “Her expertise and her experience in leadership make her qualified.”

Christian will start on June 1. Daisy Gonzales, the interim chancellor, will continue in the position until Christian takes office.

Han Li can be reached at

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