Ethnic studies changed 18-year-old Hassani Bell’s life.
“I grew up in East Oakland and I remember hearing gunshots from my window, feeling helpless, hating myself because I couldn’t help that person who would scream,” Bell said. “Just to know they were suffering – that was something I couldn’t live with.”
High school introduced Bell to ethnic studies.
“It changed my life and I found my ‘why,’” the Africana studies major said. “I just knew that making a difference was what my life’s work was going to be.”
Bell is one of four students on “hunger strike” in support of increased funding to the College of Ethnic Studies. The “hunger strike” began at 12 a.m. Monday. The strikers and their supporters set up camp outside the Administration Building in the hope of garnering the attention of President Leslie E. Wong.
Wong made an appearance at the aerial dance performance by Flyaway Productions at the J. Paul Leonard Library Tuesday, but did not acknowledge the campers huddled in blankets nearby. A group of Ethnic Studies supporters followed Wong into the library’s fourth-floor gallery and demanded a meeting at 8 p.m. Wong refused, according to Sofia Cardenas, a third-year women and gender studies major and employee of the Ethnic Studies Student Organization.
“We told him that he was not prioritizing us because he wouldn’t have a meeting with us today,” Cardenas said. “There’s students out here starving themselves so we obviously think this is important. If he doesn’t see students willing to put their bodies on the line as an urgent matter to address, that’s not okay. He’s over there dancing. We’ve got students over here starving themselves.”
The College of Ethnic Studies supporters presented Wong with a list of 10 demands on February 25. Cardenas said the hunger strikers feel the first demand is most important: $8 million for the College.
“We’re not asking for money to keep us afloat,” Cardenas said. “We’re asking for money to enrich our programs so that we can thrive. We have the right to thrive.”
She said students are prepared to remain camped out and on “hunger strike” until the demand is met.
“Hopefully the police won’t come and arrest us,” Bell said. “We asked (Wong) to guarantee our safety (while camping) and guarantee that we won’t receive a misdemeanor because according to admin, that’s what we could be facing for ‘lodging.’”
Supporters stood in a circle of solidarity on Tuesday night, with a moment of group prayer held by department chair of American Indian studies Andrew Jolivette and drumming by Ethnic Studies graduate student Moses Omolade.
“I think people need to walk away from this knowing that love is an act of resistance,” Cardenas said. “It is so disheartening to have your friends doing a hunger strike being deprioritized by a dance show.”
Sachiel Rosen, 19, one of the strikers, said he feels the support and feels like the students have “already won” because they have started a discourse on campus.
“I believe that ethnic studies is the key to self-motivation,” Rosen said. “It makes kids really excited to go to school. Right now in San Francisco we’re fighting a monster of gentrification, police brutality, homelessness, housing crisis. (Ethnic studies) is a source of knowledge of how to fight what’s going on in our city right now.”
Rosen said the strikers are only consuming coconut water, water, broth and “some vitamins.”
“It’s indefinite,” Rosen said. “We’re going to be here until we get what we want.”
Golden Gate Xpress’ complete package containing all our in-depth coverage on the College of Ethnic Studies can be found here.