By Kara Shoemaker

The inequities that have long existed within our community have suddenly come into sharp focus as the coronavirus pandemic continues. We are seeing profound food, housing, and employment insecurity, as well as the need for accessible behavioral health support and access to quality, affordable health care. 

At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement is calling for justice and equity for Black and indigenous peoples, and other people of color, who continue to face racism and violence.

“The first step in addressing inequities is acknowledging that they exist,” explained Dr. Niki Sandoval, education director for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians and Santa Barbara Foundation trustee. “We have rich diversity throughout Santa Barbara County. When we connect with those whose experiences are different than ours, when we listen to their perspectives, and when we learn from each other, we can begin to address systemic forms of oppression.”

Niki Sandoval
Photo contributedSanta Barbara 

Sandoval has spent her career addressing inequity in the education system. As education director for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians for the past 11 years, she has helped dramatically improve educational outcomes for the tribe. Additionally, she is a lecturer at UCSB, where she engages undergraduate and graduate students in the examination of equity issues in education.

Sandoval’s impact has also been felt at the state level. As a member of the California State Board of Education (2013 to 2020), she served as liaison to the Advisory Commission on Special Education (focusing on educational equity and inclusion for individuals with disabilities, students of color in special education, and youth in the juvenile justice system) and as liaison to the History Social Science subcommittee of the Instructional Quality Commission of California, which resulted in more accurate and sensitive representation of people from diverse cultures and communities in state-adopted textbooks.

Recently, Sandoval was a guest speaker alongside James Joyce III from Coffee with a Black Guy and Ken Barrow of the Diversity Collective, on an Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) panel that discussed diversity, equity, and inclusion in the nonprofit world.

“What I love about working with people in the social sector is that there is a willingness to listen and learn from each other,” Sandoval said. “The Fundraising Professionals invited us together out of a sincere interest in being as inclusive in their practice as possible. This inclusion relates to hiring personnel, contractors, vendors, recruiting volunteers and board members, and ensuring that their workplaces are welcoming to those who bring diverse perspectives.”

As a member of the SBF board, Sandoval’s unique perspective and expertise in addressing inequity is invaluable to the foundation as it endeavors to build empathetic, inclusive and resilient communities.

Interestingly, Sandoval’s initial affiliation with the Santa Barbara Foundation is not through her contributions as a trustee, nor through her involvement as a Katherine Harvey Fellow in 2008 — but as a scholarship recipient.

“When I was a student at Allan Hancock College, former Foundation Trustee Agnes Grogan came into the classroom to share information about the Santa Barbara Foundation Scholarship,” Sandoval recalled. “As a first-generation college student from a family with few economic resources, I was navigating an unknown. I will always be grateful to the Santa Barbara Foundation’s donors for their investment in my education.”

Sandoval eventually transferred to Pepperdine University, where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in public relations, and later earned a Master’s degree in museum studies from George Washington University and a Ph.D. in education from UCSB. She is the first member of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to earn a doctorate in education.

“I have received. I am compelled to give. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been of service as a donor, volunteer, fellow, and Trustee,” Sandoval said. “My hope is that community members will join me in contributing to the Santa Barbara Foundation in a way that is meaningful for them. Every gift makes a profound difference. Our efforts are most powerful when we come together for the good.”