SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. – Dominic Ruffin told Jean Peacock he was on the fifth floor of Cal State San Bernardino’s Social and Behavioral Sciences Building so early in the morning because he was studying for an exam. She asked if everything was okay. He said yes.
It would have all been very nice if it were that simple. The truth was that his exam wasn’t until that evening, and, as much as he was studying, Dominic was biding his time. In 2008, the CSUSB student was just two quarters deep into his education, and within a few minutes he admitted to Peacock, a professor of psychology and an associate dean for social and behavioral sciences, that he was homeless.
He had been sleeping a lot in his car. But whenever he could – as often as he could – he would head to the university’s Pfau Library, find his preferred quiet spot and catch some rest.
Peacock helped him get into university housing, where he has lived ever since. This Sunday, June 19, at 1 p.m., Dominic, 26, will finally walk during the university’s College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ commencement ceremony in CSUSB’s Coussoulis Arena. He’ll graduate with his bachelor’s in social sciences.
Before landing at CSUSB, Dominic was one of just two foster care youth living in a Chino group home to graduate from high school. Having just turned 18 and officially on his own after “aging out” of the system, Dominic traveled to Northern California, where he attended a junior college, took a job after being homeless for a few months and then came back to Southern California.
He bounced around for a few more years. He lived with a great aunt. He joined the Army, but never made it through basic training after deciding the military was not a good fit. He lived in San Bernardino for awhile, working in a bookstore and at a few security jobs. But then he lost his job and his apartment. Nothing was working – again.
And then it struck him. College. He applied and was admitted to CSUSB as a junior and began attending classes.
“I was happy even just to be here. I was excited,” he says, even though he had no place to live, was “couch surfing” and sleeping at Secombe Lake in downtown San Bernardino.
If there was one thing Dominic had learned well having lived in foster care, it was how to work within a system to get things done.
He had already secured financial aid. But without money for expensive textbooks, he checked to see if an instructor had course texts on reserve in the CSUSB library before he enrolled in a class.
“It was a lot of preemptive planning. You really have to strategize and what-not … So I would check the books out overnight.”
Most of the motivation to go to school and to keep going to school, for Dominic, has had to come from within.
“My first words when I got here were, ‘I’m happy to be here, but I’m going to fail out. You have to be smart to go here,’” he recalls thinking. “Especially on holidays, when you’re actually doing well in school, when you bring home decent grades, you have nobody to really show it to.”
So he would rally. “It’s partially survival, and I think it’s also a will to rise above my personal circumstances,” he says. “You know, you can go to hell and back and still come out basically on top. And I feel like in my situation that’s kind of where I’ve been.”
Dominic says he has seen one statistic that only 2 percent of all former foster care children earn a bachelor’s degree.
“There’s a lot of work that has to be done,” he says, “in the field of social work,” which is the field he now plans to enter as a master’s student at CSUSB.
For more information on or a digital image of Dominic Ruffin, call the CSUSB Office of Public Affairs at (909) 537-5007.