The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

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.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover

Comments (1)

All Golden Gate Xpress Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • E

    Ernie BrillApr 14, 2021 at 2:54 pm

    I am a veteran of the San Francisco State Strike of 1968-1969 where I was a writer, English Dept. student concerned with the allwhite curricculum, and a SDS antiracist activist. Along with ten thousand or more other student, I staunchly participated in the strike, picketing at 6am in the mornings, no matter what the weather ( it helped to think of the Vietnamese fighting for self-determination in pouring monsoons), joining the events of each day whether it was taking on masses of police from San Francisco and the six to ten surrounding counties, or doing classroom educa”twortion in the classrooms that were still teaching, marching around the campus, and running from out-of-control police.
    The strike changed my life, or, rather, strengthened my commitment to makeAmerica more inclusively America, primarily by taking on all the tmanifestations of racism, both blatant and insidious. I did a lot of work , before, during, and after the strike, exploring racim in the English Department which had about fifty courses, undergradute and graduate, about 400 assigned books, and three books by African American writers, and one or two by latino/x, indigenous, and Asian America/Pacific Islander writers.
    In the scores of meetings and thousands of conversation I had with fellowstudents, teachers, community members and others, the persosn who stood out was Ms.Patrcia Thornton. She was fearless, more knowledgable about the issues than almost anyone there since she had been in a group of African American students who had been trying to get Black Studies on to the campus for at least three years before the strike. And she would not be put off; she could not be conned or cajoled by some smooth-talking administrative flack. She shoved aside all the false feints and cobwebs the ration threw at us, and demanded a clear strong intenseley pro community Black Studies program that as one its main foundations and components had a required and build in part of bringing back the education students received to working on projjects directly related to the need and desires of the community.
    In this, as with her peers Terry Collins JerryVernardo, Benny Stewart, Nesbitt Crutchfield of the Black Student Union, and the other dedicated leaders of the Third World Liberation Front- Roger Alveraddo of the Latino/x groups, Dan Gonzalez, Ron Quidachay and Juanita Tamayo Lott of the Phillipino Students, and Mason Wong, Lorene Chen and Al Wong of the Chinese studentss, Pat Thornton helped steer us to the most significant antiracist change in America hiigher education for the last fifty years. That it was chipped away at and stripped of its leadership within a year should be no surprise because our strike’s insistence on regular involvement relating our educaation with community needs and development presented a real example that could be replicated in thousands of other universities and cities
    I had no idea what had happened with Dr. Thornton and at our 50th reeunion in 2019 it seemed that many other veteran strikers did not know either. So it is wonderful and inspiring to read Dayvon Dunaway’s well-done artcle about the ongoing valor of Dr. Chinosole’s life as we contnue to act in the heroic name her African sisters and brothers besstowed upon her.

Activate Search
The Student News Site of San Francisco State University
Community celebrates the life of beloved professor