Of all her many accomplishments during her 24 years at Cal Lutheran, Juanita Hall is proudest of making a difference in people’s lives.
By Lisa McKinnon
When Juanita Hall, MS ’99, first stepped onto the Cal Lutheran campus, it was as a grad student pursuing a master’s degree in counseling and guidance.
She earned that degree — followed by a doctorate in education from UCLA — and much more: From 1997 until her retirement in July, Hall gained the respect of Cal Lutheran students and colleagues alike as she helped guide the university’s diversity initiatives under formal titles that included director of multicultural and international programs and assistant to the president for diversity and inclusion.
Her final post was as senior director for the Office of International Students and Scholars, the title she took on after overseeing the creation of the university’s Center for Global Engagement in 2018.
But she also served less formally as someone who could offer one-on-one advice to students of color, in some cases years after their graduation ceremonies.
“I really believe that education (is) key to changing how we (often don’t take) advantage of the gifts and talents and intelligence of whole segments of our population,” said Hall, whose personal blog, Fully Present Post Fifty, details “life as it’s happening as an African American woman with a blended family.”
What are you most proud of when you look back on your 24 years at Cal Lutheran?
I’m most proud of the positive impact students and colleagues have told me I had on them through my interactions, advice, teaching, role modeling and caring. To learn that I’ve made a positive difference in people’s lives and their outlook is the thing I am most proud of, and the one thing I’ve hoped to accomplish. It is why I stayed at Cal Lutheran — to educate leaders for a global society.
Being an educator was one of your earliest career choices, but a lot happened before you were able to follow that path. Can you describe some of the side trips you took along the way?
I struggled because I was one of those kids who liked a lot of things and was good at a lot of things. I (even) played basketball and volleyball pretty seriously. I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to be. So when I went to USC, I started off as a liberal studies (major) because I thought, “OK, I’m going to be a teacher.” My parents, who were both business people, were completely against it. They were like, “Teachers don’t make any money.” (She laughs.)
I bowed down to my parents and switched to business. And I did work in business for a while, but I didn’t like it. I got a certificate in interior design because I do love that and thought, “OK, I can join my business degree with design” — only to discover that I didn’t like clients. (She laughs again.) I got a real estate license, a securities license … I worked for a finance company. And hated it. It just was not me.
What inspired you to make a change? Both of my parents died within four years of each other. And (my then-husband and I) got a divorce. All of this happened inside of five years. I saw a therapist and realized that I was not living the life I really wanted to live. I was living the life (others) wanted. It came down to, “What do you want?” And (the answer was) that first love, which was education and learning.
Did you plan on focusing on diversity in education when you enrolled at Cal Lutheran?
I wasn’t sure in what capacity I wanted to be in education, (but) I knew that I cared about racial equity.
Being a Black person in America, there is no way you can escape race and ethnicity. My Blackness preceded me. I found it when I attended my first all-white school and discovered it had many additional resources like a cafeteria that the previous multiethnic schools I attended did not.
So it was one of those things where I knew … I wanted to change that trajectory for my kids. They were living in Moorpark and experiencing things (as) Black kids in a predominately white neighborhood. I was dealing with their teachers on a constant basis (because of) stereotyping and all this crazy stuff that my mother had to deal with on behalf of me and my brothers.
There was a company in Thousand Oaks, a nonprofit called Diversity Inc., and (they) were training diversity facilitators to go out in the community and the schools to do diversity training through the Anti-Defamation League. I joined that organization and later applied for a position at Cal Lutheran in Student Activities and Multicultural Programs and have been at Cal Lutheran ever since.
I switched over to the multicultural and international-students side completely. I had had experience as a study abroad student and worked in both international admissions and the study abroad offices at USC as an undergrad, so I knew what that was all about.
Why is it important to have students from other countries at Cal Lutheran?
They bring the world to the campus through their experience, through their worldview (and) their culture. That benefit can be realized only if they are given visibility and a voice and encouragement to share.
For a lot of them, the degree they’re getting (here) is not available in their home country. When they return home, they return as teachers, business owners, medical professionals … and as ambassadors for the U.S. They know what it is to be an American, and what Americans are like.
Was it hard to think about retiring?
I love my job. I love working with international students. I love diversity work, although it can be exhausting. So when one of my sorority sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha announced she was retiring, I said, “Really?” And she said, “When it’s time, Juanita, you’ll know.” I couldn’t understand what she meant by that.
Then my husband (experienced a health crisis) in the middle of COVID-19. It took a toll on (us both). Now that we’re recovering, I realize how short life is. One day I woke up and said, “OK, I’m ready. And I know exactly what I’m going to do when I retire.”
I have a whole list. (She laughs.) But the first thing is to take a painting class. I already paint pots and Christmas bulbs and everybody likes them. But to me, honestly, I think I paint like a 5-year-old.
Lisa McKinnon is a longtime Ventura County resident who has written for the Ventura County Star, 805 Living magazine and Central Coast Farm & Ranch magazine. She blogs about the region’s food scene at 805foodie.com.