Students go on hunger strike for ethnic studies
A group of SF State students began a hunger strike Monday, saying they will not eat until the administration allocates $8 million to the College of Ethnic Studies.
SF State students and faculty gathered in Malcolm X Plaza Monday to protest the SF State budget and looming spending cuts to the College of Ethnic Studies.
Students Hassani Bell, Julia Retzlaff, Sachiel Rosen and Ahkeel Mestayer have all committed to the hunger strike.
“We had this idea because the University administration has not given us any reason to believe that they were going to do anything with just the dialogue,” Mestayer said. “Having all of the meetings that we requested with the president be cancelled by him, we said it’s time to up the ante a little more.”
As previously reported by Golden Gate Xpress, Eastern Michigan University accounting professor Howard Bunsis announced that, according to his analysis, SF State was not operating in a structural deficit, and that funds should not be reduced.
On March 28, President Wong offered a “one-time” installment of $250,000, but the college claims that that will not suffice for its daily needs or services. The students and faculty are demanding funds to protect the college’s faculty, 50 percent of its courses, its entire graduate program, resource center, and outreach, according to a fact sheet given out by the College of Ethnic Studies.
The students committed to the hunger strike have set up camp outside the Administration Building in hopes that their voices will finally be heard.
“The strikers are accepting vitamins they can take without meals but not gummy vitamins. Coconut water, chocolate coconut water and water,” said Abby Li, a media representative for the strike. “They’re going until (President Leslie E. Wong) meets our demands.”
The protest started in the center of Malcolm X Plaza, where students and instructors circled around the organizers, who recited a list of demands regarding the funds available at SF State.
The group of about 50 students, professors and supporters gathered in front of the Administration Building at the end of the march and continued to call for immediate action.
Students from Aptos Middle School were on a routine campus tour led by students in the College of Ethnic Studies and joined SF State students as they marched. The San Francisco School District partnered with Stanford University in researching the connection between Ethnic Studies courses and boosted attendance and performance among middle school and high school students.
“San Francisco sees that ethnic studies is important, and that’s why they’re putting it in their public school – why wouldn’t that reflect in our university?” asked Sofia Cardenas, a third-year women and gender studies major and employee of the Ethnic Studies Student Organization.
Protesters chanted in an attempt to get Wong to come down to the rally and address the situation.
“It’s the same thing that is happening to our friends and our families,” Mestayer said as he announced the hunger strike. “The people that are getting pushed out of their homes is the same thing as us getting pushed out of our own college and our own textbooks.”
Phillip Klasky, an SF State lecturer in the College of Ethnic Studies, was one of the key speakers at the rally.
“According to President Wong, the College of Ethnic Studies has an overspending problem,” Klasky said.
Amy Casselman, also an Ethnic Studies lecturer, finished Klasky’s statement by citing Bunsis’ report.
“The concept of overspending makes no sense since it is a problem created by the administration,” Casselman said.
Students voiced their displeasure for the threat of cutting Ethnic Studies during the rally by yelling “boo” on multiple occasions. The signs students held had slogans such as, “Chop from the top,” meaning take the money for ethnic studies from the top administrators.
Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Sue Rosser responded to the students’ accusations regarding the Ethnic Studies funding at a press conference.
“We support the rights of our students to free speech and we continue to take their concerns seriously,” Rosser said. “There are no plans, as there have never been, to cut the budget of Ethnic Studies; we have been repeating this since early this semester.”
As reported by Xpress, administrators and officials of SF State claim that the college is over-spending their allocated funds, but students and faculty claim the College of Ethnic Studies has been underfunded since 2008, after the statewide budget crisis.
The rally soon became a march and a picketed protest that took multiple laps around the SF State campus. During the protest, students participated in multiple chants.
“Whose University?” yelled half of the protestors, “Our University,” the rest called back.
Michael Evans, an SF State communications major who attended the rally, was supportive of the protest and wanted to see the College of Ethnic Studies remain intact in perpetuity.
“I think this is very powerful and very needed,” said Evans. “For them to shut down and not pay attention to Ethnic Studies is a direct slap in the face to people of color. We need knowledge to empower ourselves. For us not to have (the College of Ethnic Studies) anymore at the only place it exists is insane.”
Golden Gate Xpress’ complete package containing all our in-depth coverage on the College of Ethnic Studies can be found here.