A letter from the editor regarding the presidential Harlem Shake

Dear Readers,

The Xpress has come under some criticism recently for the role that we played in getting President Wong to take part in SF State’s second iteration of the now-ubiquitous Harlem Shake. As the editor-in-chief, I feel that it is my responsibility to address our critics.

First, a brief explanation of how I came to be writing you this letter. Last Saturday, our blog editor, Matt Saincome, wrote a post on The Swamp challenging Wong to participate in the viral video if we could get 100 people to tweet him with the admittedly-silly-but-seemingly-innocuous hashtag #ShakeItWong.

The internet, as it has a tendency to do, transformed silliness into popularity and, by Monday, the 100-tweet threshold had been passed. Wong made good on his word and informed us that, Friday at 2 p.m., he would come down from the administration building and, both literally and rhythmically, get on the students’ level.

Meanwhile, criticism arose in the journalism department, all of which was well-chronicled on The Swamp. Some questioned whether we could maintain a professional distance from the president while calling him to take part in a goofy dance video, and whether our ability to hold the administration accountable was compromised by doing so.

Questions were raised about why Xpress would advocate for something so trivial when our school, and public higher education as a whole, is facing such dire problems.

To them I would say that the lack of community and school spirit on the campus of SF State is a dire problem.

In the last five years, SF State students have seen their tuition hiked nearly every semester. Classes have been slashed from our schedule, likely never to return. We’ve seen our esteemed professors toil tirelessly, looking to the horizon for their next pay raise.

These are all symptoms of a larger problem: the systematic defunding of higher education. A problem so vast and multifaceted that it cannot be solved by a single person, cause or organization. Problems of this magnitude can only be solved by a community of like-minded individuals who have some shared life experience, and that’s where #ShakeItWong comes in.

Since his arrival, Wong has told me on numerous occasions that his highest priority is the student experience. This is not exactly a surprising statement from a newly appointed president of a large university, but still, a high standard to meet.

But lofty goals are one thing; following through on them is quite another. I saw the challenge to Wong as a chance for him to prove, all over the Internet, that his statements about putting students first were more than just sound bites. I saw it as a chance for SF State students to see themselves as a community who could, with collective effort, achieve something, however trivial it might be.

Obviously, the president coming down to dance with students on a sunny Friday afternoon does not, by itself, prove the president’s commitment to bettering the student experience. But it doesn’t hurt, either.

To those who think that our ability to effectively hold our administration accountable has been compromised, I would ask that you look to our past and wait for our future.

We have a history of publishing stories that serve to inform the student population about the issues that effect them. We’ve often used our opinion page to call for action on the part of administrators to help ease the financial burdens that cause so much stress for students. We’ve covered faculty labor strikes, CSU fee votes and student demonstrations, all in the hopes that a better informed student body will be able to advocate for their interests more effectively.

As for our future, I must ask you to have faith. Our commitment to finding the stories that keep you, our readers, informed has not diminished. Our ability to hold the president’s feet to the fire has not been reduced by the fact that we asked him to use those same feet to do the Harlem Shake.

So if you are one of those who thinks that we overstepped our role as a student publication, I welcome your criticism. If you are one of those who was in Malcolm X plaza at 2 p.m. on Friday, I hope you looked around at your fellow Harlem Shakers, including the president, and took note of what your community looks like.

Kale Williams

Editor-in-chief

Golden Gate Xpress

Latest comments
  • well said!

  • Sad to see that the debate does not even include the appropriation and denigration of the Harlem Shake. For a campus that claims to be social-justice oriented, that’s a pretty big omission from our campus response.

  • That is one of the best things I’ve read all day! Tell ’em, Kale!

  • Marygrace, couldn’t agree with you more.
    Kale, building solidarity does not come out of shared trivial experiences. Never has, never will. Solidarity comes from going through struggle together. I, for one, am embarrassed that this will be the school that I will be receiving a B.A. from, and that it’s biggest moment of “student unity” thus far in the school year was glomming onto a cultural artifact stolen from the East Coast and trashed on the internet. And to think I had also been considering journalism at this school.

    • While I think Marygrace has a point, that may be a great focus of a future piece. The focus of this piece needed to address allegations of the newspaper cozying up to administration. I think this post was effective in that regard.

      And Matt? The human experience is more varied than struggle. When you look back fondly on your shared experience with other human beings, I hope you remember the good times as well as the bad.

      A newspaper needs to not just trumpet dire warnings of doom from on high, it needs to uplift its community. A newspaper is a conduit for the voices of a community: warnings of ill and cautionary tales, but also stories that connect us and bring us together.