In the current political climate where social unrest pervades college campuses around the country, some SF State students think the university is at odds with its own values of equity, inclusion and diversity.
With only the third week underway in the new school semester, the university has two lawsuits under its belt. One was filed against the school in June and alleges the school of fostering a climate of anti-Semitism on campus.
The other, just two weeks old, was filed by the dean of SF State’s historic college of Ethnic Studies (COES). Kenneth P. Monteiro, Ph.D, dean of the COES, is suing the university for unlawful discrimination, harassment, retaliation and defamation.
Monteiro filed the lawsuit on his own behalf. According to a press release, Monteiro “no longer tolerates (SF State’s) continued subjugation of the COES and its minority students to ‘death by a thousand budget cuts …”
The lawsuit comes at a time when college campuses across the country battle with free speech issues and often become the destination for racist incidents and protests against racism.
“I think the terms equity, diversity, and inclusion (have) different meanings for different people. Personally, I think it is questionable as to how much equity, diversity, and inclusion is present at (SF State),” said Alina Ahmed, a fourth-year women and gender studies major, in a private message chat on Facebook. “I feel that the university creates false hope that everything will be resolved but then another issue pops up and we are back to zero.”
The university has not yet filed a response to Monteiro’s lawsuit, but believes that future proceedings will show the school did not discriminate against him, according to a statement by SF State’s university Counsel Daniel Ojeda.
“ … This case is in the early stages and the university has not filed a response with the court, but as the case proceeds, the facts will show that San Francisco State did not discriminate against Dr. Monteiro and his allegations will be proven meritless. The university will defend the lawsuit vigorously, while continuing to create an academic and employment environment that provides equal access and benefits to all regardless of race, age, or other individual characteristics,” Ojeda said in the statement.
Monteiro filed the lawsuit after the university failed to respond to a formal administrative complaint made by the dean. In the complaint, Monteiro alleges the university, President Leslie E. Wong and other administrators retaliated against him “for protesting annual COES budget cuts and defamed Monteiro by publicly issuing false claims” that he overspent and mismanaged the COES budget, according to the press release.
“It is evident that there are problems within the system for this to continuously to happen.”
But according to information provided by Ojeda in an email, the university did not fail to respond to the complaint. Ojeda said in the email that Monteiro filed the complaint with the California State University (CSU) Chancellor’s Office, which is currently investigating the complaint with a CSU assigned investigator. The investigation, Ojeda said, should be completed soon.
Monteiro’s lawsuit comes after sweeping budget cuts to the entire university in 2009 — and according to Monteiro’s lawsuit, disproportionate budget cuts to the COES. The budget issue culminated in a hunger strike in 2016. The hunger strike lasted 10 days and university administrators and the hunger strike participants reached an agreement based on demands made by the student activists.
But for Nicolas Jara, a fourth-year cinema major, Monteiro’s lawsuit brings back frustration over the issue of budget cuts to the COES.
“I (was) immediately frustrated (by) the fact that this has to occur all over again — I thought the problem was already fixed,” Jara said. “It is a continuous battle, and I think that is what we often forget. It is evident that there are problems within the system for this to continuously to happen.”
As a direct response to the list of the demands made by the student activists in the 2016 hunger strike, the university launched the new Division of Equity & Community Inclusion (DECI) at the start of this semester. The DECI comes with support from Wong and his cabinet and is designed to promote, among other things, inclusion and facilitate dialogue.
The program held its first discussion forum last Friday and although Wong was not at the event, the few students that came participated in constructive dialogue about the current political climate and racial tensions in the country.
According to SF State News, the program aligns with the university’s longtime commitment “to diversity and social justice.”
But for Ivy Tran, who spoke as an individual student and not as a member of the Associated Students Inc., the school’s commitment to diversity and social justice should include the support for the COES.
“As a student and as someone who has taken classes in the (COES), I have seen the struggle the (college) has gone through,” Tran said. “I feel like (Monteiro’s lawsuit) will bring a lot of light to the struggles and the plights that the (COES) and the students who are of ethnic background have on this campus; (it) really does mirror what is happening right now in our country.”
In the statement, Ojeda said the university continues to value and “promote equity, inclusion, and diversity in its academic programs and employment relationships.”
SF State filed a motion to dismiss the complaints made in the anti-Semitism lawsuit. Ojeda was not able to give further information in regard to the lawsuit filed by Monteiro giving the pending litigation.
“Every new student of color who walks on campus can find a way to improve the college of Ethnic studies in a way; they are also improving the way we interact as a society.”
For Sofía Cárdenas, a fourth-year women and gender studies major and race and resistance studies minor, the lawsuit filed by Monteiro came as no surprise.
“I was not surprised, as someone who became very involved in the fight to defend and advance Ethnic studies, I was very aware of the ways the administration attempted to divide us,” Cárdenas said in a private message chat on Facebook. “Our college isn’t perfect, but it’s a work in progress, it’s a living entity. Every new student of color who walks on campus can find a way to improve the college of Ethnic studies in a way; they are also improving the way we interact as a society.”
Cárdenas also said she is aware of the currently intense climate on campus.
“Our campus is ‘Hot.’ In a lot of ways, events on our campus are just an amplifications of conversations being (held) all over the country. Whatever moves the administration makes in regards to both lawsuits are being watched very carefully. Im curious to see how things develop.”