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November 25, 2013
Freshman Facts: Shirley Weber, the academic warrior

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For those who sees universities as placid fortresses of study and civility, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, has a different thesis.

"Faculty politics adequately prepared me for Sacramento," Weber said.

Weber traces her educational affinity to the days when, as a five-year-old, she taught neighborhood kids with a chalkboard on her back porch. She accumulated three degrees by the time she was 26, becoming an expert in African-American rhetoric and movements.

But when she spearheaded an effort to create an Africana Studies department at San Diego State University, she collided with the heated politics of academia. Against a backdrop of social turmoil and student unrest, conservatively-minded faculty resisted creating a department for a fledgling field that many saw as a temporary fad.

"Your assumption is that universities are these bastions of liberal ideas and they really are not," Weber said. "They are places where you have these tremendous traditions and cultures."

Decades later, the Africana Studies Department at SDSU boasts multiple full-time faculty members, 20 classes for the spring 2014 semester and a study abroad program. Weber helped create that, too; this year, students are heading to Ghana.

"Unfortunately I won't go with them, because we'll be in session," Weber said.

The 2013-2014 Legislature features the largest freshman class in decades. In this recurring series, Insider Edition helps get you acquainted with the influx of newcomers.

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