Book Review: Critical Mass

New and Notable

March 2023

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Book Review: Critical Mass

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Stanford University and the profile of its student body and alumni were forever changed after federal policies were enacted in the 1960s and 1970s to address the effects of generations of racial discrimination and exclusion of “historically underrepresented minorities.” Stanford was not alone, as colleges and universities across the nation established, for the first time, policies of affirmative action for admission of students of color. The door to ethnic and racial diversity on the Farm, which had been largely closed since the university’s founding, was pushed open.

The enrollment of the 71 Mexican Americans, along with similar numbers for African Americans, marked a historic breakthrough.

Frank O. Sotomayor, MA ’67, in The Dawning of Diversity: How Chicanos Helped Change Stanford University, West by Southwest Press

The Dawning of Diversity: How Chicanos Helped Change Stanford University provides important and fascinating stories of Mexican Americans—Chicanos—on the Farm, particularly in the late 1960s through the 1990s. With skills he honed during his long career as an editor at the Los Angeles Times, author and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Frank Sotomayor combed university archives and interviewed dozens of alumni to provide a narrative never before written for a general readership. And, as one of the early Chicano graduate students on the Stanford campus in the late 1960s, Sotomayor, MA ’67, shines a personal light on his subjects.

If I were still teaching Introduction to Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity and Mexican American History, which I did for decades, this book would be on required reading lists. First and foremost, The Dawning of Diversity surveys the history of Chicanos at Stanford, a story known by few people beyond those students—and some faculty and staff—who are part of Sotomayor’s chronicles. But the book goes well beyond. It is a story about how a great university made a commitment to institutional change, and how students of color and their allies persistently advocated for programs and resources to make the Farm a more diverse community. It is a story, in the greater scheme of things, of how a preeminent institution of higher learning in the second half of the 20th century addressed the goal of democratization. 

As a faculty member who lived and worked through the decades covered in The Dawning of Diversity, reading the book brought back memories of the special people and historical benchmarks that are an important part of Stanford’s modern history. The book is abundant with personal recollections from former students and descriptions of events, programs, and developments that profoundly influenced Mexican Americans and others at the university in the latter third of the 20th century. 

“I knew so little of the history about students of color and about diversity at Stanford,” a Class of ’65 alum said to me after a talk I gave last year for the Stanford Historical Society. I suggested that he read The Dawning of Diversity. It is a suggestion I offer to all members of the Stanford family.

Albert M. Camarillo is a professor of history and the Leon Sloss Jr. Memorial Professor/Haas Centennial Professor in Public Service, Emeritus. Email him at

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