Months after it was assembled, SF State University President Leslie Wong’s Task Force on Campus Climate has been suspended after several of its members have resigned.
Four out of 17 members have resigned due to the task force’s inability to be inclusive, according to Rachael Cunningham, the student representative for Hillel, the Jewish student organization on campus.
“We decided that to continue with the task force as it was would not be seen as legitimate by campus communities who we really would be trying to work with and trying to engage in,” said Cunningham, a senior international relations major.
The task force was put together as result of the Ethnic Studies hunger strike of 2016. President Wong promised to create a task force made up of a “diverse group of constituents that will address the head-on ways…[to] move toward a more harmonious, safe and inclusive campus environment,” according to President Wong’s statement when the task force first began.
Some members, however, had their doubts from the very beginning, especially with the lack of student representation on the task force.
“From the very first meeting, I was clear that if we did not invite and include more people that represents the diverse population of the campus, then I would resign,” said Jacqueline Foley, former member of the task force and current Associated Student president, who is speaking as an individual student and not as a representative of ASI.
“Well the Arab, Muslim, Palestinian students on campus were not represented accurately, I mean we had no representation from BSU, no representation from the La Raza no representation from any other student groups– and just [with] the diversity on this campus it just didn’t seem to fit,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham was also surprised to find there was more Jewish representation than any other group in the task force.
“There’s more Jewish representation which was interesting when…we [were] told we’re going to be addressing all campus climate issues” said Cunningham.
Even as others began to resign, Cunningham decided to stay on.
“I didn’t want there to be a room with no students in it, that seemed to be more concerning to me,” said Cunningham. Cunningham then became the task force’s only student representative after Foley’s resignation.
Foley resigned right after members from the Palestinian, Arab and Muslim community as well as other racially, ethnically and economically marginalized communities, wrote and open letter to Wong to protest the exclusion of the task force which accused Wong of not giving Abdulhadi institutional support with her work in academia and inclusion when it came to Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diasporas Studies (AMED) and General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS).
Saleem Shehadeh, alumna of SF State and one of the community members who wrote the letter; said they decided to finally make a public letter to the president because he believes AMED and GUPS have, “tried everything else and failed to convince the university discretely to do the right thing.”
In a meeting Foley asked if Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi, professor of AMED studies at San Francisco State who has been victim of slander and libelous harassment, was aware of the task force meetings, since she believed that Abdulhadi was an important community member that would help address Islamophobia on campus, but received no real answer.
“It is no longer even a question of guessing or speculating given not only the attacks but the deliberate and intentional exclusion of our communities from various university bodies (task force, ad-hoc group, grant applications, etc.) while being inclusive of Department of Jewish Studies and Hillel who have been fanning the flames against us,” Abdulhadi said.
Andrew Jolivette, an American Indian Studies professor at SF State, felt that lack of leadership led the the task force’s disorganization.
“I was very frustrated with the lack of thought and organization placed into the process,” said Jolivette, who served as the only representative from the College of Ethnic Studies and resigned prior to the task force’s suspension.
According to Foley, the president’s decision to not attend the meetings, other than the first, also led to more hardships for the task force.
“Him not being there felt like we were doing his work for him and that was very concerning because he’s putting all the responsibility on the communities that are being affected in this climate instead of being supportive,” said Foley.
Foley believes that the meetings would be more efficient if they were open to the public rather than being closed, similarly to the free speech summits there were prior. Free speech summits were conferences made in the early 2000’s in which the campus and community members would make presentations and voice their concerns to campus leaders.
- Elizabeth Smith, Associate Vice President, Marketing and Strategic Communications, spoke on behalf of Wong when asked how and why Wong choose the people in his task force.
“President Wong wanted to balance having a wide representation with keeping the Task Force small enough to accomplish the important work that lies ahead,” said Smith. “He will be inviting new members to ensure representation of the groups not currently represented on the Task Force due to resignations.”
For now, the task force will be suspended until new membership is found.
“People simply want quicker and more specific responses that ensure campus safety as well as equity,” said Jolivette.