Community celebrates the life of beloved professor

Amidst civil war in the African country of Angola, Patricia Thornton partnered with native refugees and warriors in their fight for independence in the 1970s. Thornton’s commitment to the cause touched the hearts of those in the community, leading them to bestow her the name “Chinosole,” meaning “That to which we aspire but is difficult to achieve… freedom,” former student and English lecturer Jennifer Beach said.

Chinosole, SF State professor emeritus, died Oct. 4, 2014 in Oakland at age 72. Loved ones, colleagues and members of the campus community gathered Jan. 4 in Oakland to commemorate her life and the legacy she left behind.

Born and raised in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood July 14,1942, Chinosole’s experiences as an African American woman in poverty shaped her consciousness and instilled in her a flame for activism, according to Beach.

The English lecturer described Chinosole as a warm, gracious, intelligent and complex person who saw education as a basic human right.

“She was a rich thinker with great patience and really believed in the importance of listening carefully, but was not easily swayed from her position,” Beach said of her former instructor in an email. “She saw her whole life as an expression of the struggle for liberation.”

Chinosole dedicated her life to empowering people of color and extended her goal to prisoners said longtime friend Hamdiya Cooks-Abdullah, who was serving time in a correctional facility when they first met.

“Her friendship transformed my otherwise dismal prison life to a glimpse of a greater existence,” Cooks-Abdullah said in an email. “She visited me every month for 10 years and walked me out of the prison gates in 2002.”

Chinosole obtained her Ph.D. in world comparative literature from the University of Oregon and taught in many places including SF State where she made history in the late 1960s as the first African American to serve as acting dean of the College of Ethnic Studies.

She was also a founding member of the Black Studies Department, making her an integral part of campus history, according to Women and Gender Studies Chair Deborah Cohler.

“She was an amazing mentor to students on campus, as well as off campus, and really touched the lives of a lot of people,” Cohler said.

Chinosole left her position as acting dean of the College of Ethnic Studies after refusing to give in to University demands to limit her student’s work in the community, thus taking her love of teaching to Africa.

She returned to SF State in the 1980s as a result of the war in Angola. This time she taught and became the chair for the Women Studies Department.

Women and Gender Studies Office Manager Lisa Tresca remembers her mentor Chinosole as very witty and serious.

“If she thought something was funny, her eyes would get so sparkly and had kind of a grin,” Tresca said. “She was really funny, and a lot of people didn’t see that side of her because she was a very purposed individual.”

In addition to her teaching and outreach with female prisoners, Chinosole authored several books and written works focused on the idea that people of color have a voice in their freedom. She retired from the University in Spring 2003, Cohler said.

Beach said that Chinosole touched thousands of students throughout her career, cultivating radical social thought with each gesture of intelligent respect.

“No one was ever more devoted to helping me develop what Freire would call my ‘full creative power,’” Beach said.