Fighting for Change
Cal State East Bay graduate looks to advocate for minority students, after overcoming decades of challenges herself
Yvette Yarbor knows a thing or two about overcoming hurdles.
The Cal State East Bay graduate proudly calls herself “member of the 50-plus” club and returned to school in January of 2019 alongside her son, who she was told, “would never attend college.”
“It’s now or never to do what it is I really want to do with my life and my career,” Yarbor, a political science major, said. “I returned to be an educational advocate for minority and marginalized students to help them learn to navigate the educational system and be an advocate for themselves.”
It’s a lesson Yarbor has learned herself over the decades.
The product of desegregation busing in California, she learned early on that she wasn’t receiving as equitable an education as her white peers.
“Although the education was OK, the personal experience was traumatic, a lot of the stereotypes and history that you read about that time, it was true, it was the reality for me and my friends,” Yarbor said.
She remembers hearing about opportunities given to white students that she and her black peers were not privy to, and educational tracking — the separation of students into groups only with students whose academic achievements mirror their own – was detrimental.
But determined, Yarbor excelled academically and after high school set her sights on a college degree.
Many years after community college, Yarbor received her Paralegal Certificate from then-CSU Hayward and transferred to St. Mary’s bachelor’s program in law studies. Four weeks before graduation, she was informed that the Associate’s Degree and work she had earned were not transferable. She would not be allowed to graduate.
“I had been diligent in ensuring I registered for all the right classes, confirming I was on the right track … I took it to the president, the provost, but no response,” she said. With three children ranging in age from 6-11-years-old, Yarbor made the painful decision to leave school and focus on her family. It was then, she says, “I became my children’s biggest advocate and the school counselor’s biggest nightmare.”
After her son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, Yarbor moved to Oakland to take advantage of the special education programs for her son, even after being told he would never finish school.
“That cut me deep because it took me back to being bussed … I could see the detriment of that process; it was hurting us more than it helped us,” Yarbor said.
Meanwhile, her daughters were graduating from San Francisco State and enrolled at Oregon State University.
Years later, Yarbor, at the encouragement of her children, enrolled at Cal State East Bay alongside her son, William Yates.
“Here I was on campus with my son, but our roles were reversed,” she said. “I was trying to keep it under wraps, and he’d see me on campus and say, “hi mom!”
Even though the duo were both political science majors, they didn’t have any classes together. Still, Yates would sit in on a few of his mom’s classes. And while he has transferred to Cal Maritime since they started together at East Bay, Yvette looks back fondly at the time they shared.
Worried she’d get to graduation and be short a handful of credits like she’d had at St. Mary’s, Yarbor was a regular at the Academic Advising and Career Education Center, so much so that she eventually became a student assistant.
But two weeks ago, Yarbor received the green light for commencement from the Cal State East Bay registrar’s office, and this weekend is celebrating her accomplishments, her children at her side.
“This journey has helped me find my purpose in life … my son is everything they said he wouldn’t be, my girls have degrees, and now I have the degree that society requires me to have in order to help and I can help young people see their potential,” Yarbor said. “I want them to see that there is hope in adversity, it don’t come easy, but at the end of the day, it feels amazing.”