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Memories of SSU

Harriette Sakuma

Student, Psychology 1964-65
External Degree, M.A. Program, 1973

Sonoma State Remembered

            In 1963 after studying three years at three other institutions, I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree at Sonoma State College. It was then a new state college having been an extension of San Francisco State for a number of years. I hadn’t realized how new and tiny it was until I arrived on campus…an extraordinarily small cluster of two story buildings that looked like a wayside motel. The library was across the street and looked like the supermarket it was later to become. After Oregon State, Santa Rosa Jr. College and Sacramento State College, the physical plant of the fledgling Sonoma State College was wonderful.

            I decided to major in psychology. All my transfer credits were accepted and I had only upper division psychology classes to complete.  I’d attended three traditional institutions as a life science major and expected this final year of study would simply be more of the same. I had no thoughts about existentialism or humanistic psychology nor did I think very much about who “I” might be.

            The classes were small. Twenty students was a huge class.  This was both scary and a wonderful opportunity for more personal instruction. The assignments were often to read or experience something and to write Reaction Papers. It didn’t take long to realize that what was needed and wanted was simply a well formulated and honestly expressed reaction…and what I got back were often  comments pointing out incongruities and encouragement to delve more deeply into what I was expressing and feeling. Right or wrong was no longer an issue; this continuum did not exist on the level of feelings and creativity. My goodness this was an education!

            The invitation to explore my own perspective and experience as fully as I wished and dared was a mind blower. I became aware that I was the expert on what I felt, experienced, expressed, and that I was invited to open up to the bountiful fullness of life, to the magnificence of who I am and who you are, and to jump in with both feet and all the rest of me…and to share myself authentically. Goodness, what did that mean?

             I graduated, to my own and my parents’ delight and had, in the two years I spent at Sonoma State, gained the basis for a lifetime of exploration of myself and my world. I shall be ever grateful for the openness and “unconditional positive regard” I experienced from the Psych Department faculty and staff. What I got there then, was preparation for living within the question rather than settling for the answer; knowing that I am not limited in any way except what I choose to believe; that my thoughts and ideas create the world in which I live and influence the farthest star in the cosmos.

            The Humanistic Psych Department approach to “higher education” was the door opening for me to the wonders of this lifetime and all others (the opening to parallel universes and time/space distortions and dislocations) It was like an institutional compression and decompression tank allowing us to explore what we thought were previously untouched ideas that were potentially explosive in a pretty safe environment.  The faculty were there to hold the space and to keep us somewhat grounded. Such a wonderful experiment!  My time at Sonoma State in the mid-60’s opened me to a great yet-to-be and what I learned in that short time paved my way with priceless jewels and allowed me to begin untangling the cords that create my world and weave another reality. This has not been a painless path but it has been a totally engaging one with many moments of beauty and poignancy, of love and glorious revelation and the deep peace of staying true to who I am in the fullness of my being. I am deeply grateful that I was privileged to participate in a magnificent educational experience in the Humanistic Psychology program. This was a place and a time when we were encouraged to think in all directions and most importantly, outside the box (where dogma and group think were challenged and all of it was just “grist for the mill”). And there was structure enough for us to move in any established track and get help to forge new pathways. This, to me, is a true education.

These I remember and remain grateful to for sharing themselves, their thoughts and ideas:

Stan Goertzen: He drove me nuts and I loved him as he taught me the most about limitlessness and being, and stepping into the unknown.

Duncan Gilles: He gave me some structure to hang on to and was gentle and loving as he pushed us forward.

Red Thomas: He was a major presence on campus. We all looked up to him.

Gordon Tappan: He would not be pinned down.

Al Marks: He brought the science into the program and I ended up loving Statistics classes.

Barbara Biebush: She could tell me where to look in the literature for just about anything.

Dorothy Overly: The doyen of the English Department.

Cheryl Petersen: She knew more about California politics than anyone else I knew.

George McCabe: He was on leave but his influence was felt everywhere.

Betty Schnabel: She was the first person one encountered in the Psych Department and was efficient and so nice and so helpful.