Student Advocate Walter Hawkins Succumbs
By Dianne Anderson
Some people fight with signs and protests, others with fists or guns.
Walter Hawkins, always known as the “gentle giant” will be remembered for how he fought the power through data sets and charts.
Mr. Hawkins passed away last week.
A trusted voice in the community, Hawkins analyzed facts to fight the system without bias, making his call based solely on data, never emotions.
His wife, Dr. Jean Peacock, said he was uncompromising when it came to the story that the data told.
“He would state in the conclusions that he would draw and people would mistake his intentions. His intentions were purely social justice,” said Dr. Peacock. “He didn’t hold grudges.”
Hawkins, a retired CSUSB data analyst, raised the red flag through the years on concerns that the Black student population was shrinking at an alarming rate at Cal State San Bernardino, while other racial groups were increasing. By comparison, other campuses with smaller local availability of Black students maintained better enrollment.
Until recently, Hawkins remained resolute to reveal the huge gap in higher education enrollment and access for local Black students, even those who were eligible and qualified.
Hawkins reported that CSUSB fared poorly. The numbers then showed that while the Hispanic population had grown 110 percent since pre-recession enrollment levels, Black student population decreased 47 percent.
“There were 1,600 Black students that completed their A-G. Even if they only focused on the regular-admit students, they couldn’t have gotten more than 108 freshmen enrolled? It’s ridiculous,” Hawkins said in a 2018 interview with the Precinct Reporter.
But Peacock said her husband was often misunderstood, yet he never stopped trying to shed light on racial disparities.
“He never had a bone to pick or punch to throw, it was simply all about the numbers. He would tell it like it is,” she said.
Hawkins’ heart was bigger than he was, but for those who didn’t know him, she said he could be intimidating.
Or, maybe it was that the numbers were hard to fight.
“He was such a wonderful man. He was so caring. Sometimes he was serious, but he was a teddy bear,” she said.
He was passionate about getting services for traditionally underserved students at Cal State. Together, they started the Walter S. Hawkins and Dr. M. Jean Peacock EOP Endowed Scholarship. In place of flowers, she asks that donations be made to the endowment, which assists students in the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), undergraduates or graduates entering graduate school majoring in Psychology or Social Work that maintain a G.P.A. of 2.5 or higher.
Westside Action Group President, Stan “Amiri” Futch, said that his long time friend served a vital role on the WAG education committee. He developed a specialized program and a template for success many years ago that is still utilized today.
Although Hawkins never put himself at the forefront, he always prepared the groundwork in the background.
“Walter was quietly putting things together. We don’t read about Walter because he was the guy that did the numbers, who did the strategy, the brains behind the thing,” Futch said.
Hawkins was unmatched in his data-driven research, often hired by candidates to determine their odds of winning an election based on the potential votes from the community.
“It was his big thing. He loved crunching those numbers and making them work for people,” he said. “That was the kind of work he did. He did impeccable work.”
Hawkins also sounded the alarm over the years on high school drop out rates, and local obstacles to equal education access at K-12 levels, including inadequate preparation for higher learning.
Along with WAG pressure, his data collection eventually spurred policy and staffing for the SBCUSD Equity & Targeted Student Achievement program.
But there again, Hawkins took issue when the numbers didn’t show the anticipated improvement, and he pushed for more progress through Local Control Funding.
Hawkins was an icon, Futch said, but most people thought because he played football at San Diego State University that he was on an athletic scholarship.
“Walter was an academic on a full-ride academic scholarship who just happened to play football. Everyone assumed, ‘Oh another brother got an athletic scholarship.’ He was just a brilliant individual,” he said.
Former Assemblymember Wilmer Amina Carter said she will always remember Hawkins for his generous spirit, always willing to share his knowledge and skills to help others.
Spanning decades, Ms. Carter and Dr. Peacock have been the best of friends since their first year at college together. Their families became inseparable, living just a few houses apart on the same street.
Math and statistics were not her strong suit, but Ms. Carter said she could count on Hawkins whenever she needed to figure how the numbers played out. The next thing she knew, he’d be at her door.
He literally drew the data on paper, and would give her an answer in two or three sentences.
“He would get in his car, come down, and draw me a graph until I understood it. That’s how Walter was,” she said. “He would follow through to make sure you got the help you needed. He would put it in terms that I could understand.”
Many people would call on him all hours of the day, and she said he used his knowledge to give back to the community.
What she admires most was his willingness to help everyone who asked.
“Some people are stingy with knowledge, but not Walter. He was happy to share his knowledge with you. That’s why I’ll admire him for the rest of my life because of who he was,” said Ms. Carter.
To send a memorial gift, checks should be made payable to:
CSUSB Philanthropic Foundation
Reference: Hawkins/Peacock Endowed Scholarship #P400261