Hunger strike sparks meeting with SF State Vice President of Student Affairs


Assistant professor of American Indian Studies John-Carlos Perea (second from left) leads College of Ethnic Studies supporters in the traditional pow wow song “Blue Horse Special,” on the march from the hunger strike campsite at the J. Paul Leonard Library to the meeting with SF State Vice President of Student Affairs Luoluo Hong in the Ethnic Studies and Psychology Building, Friday, May 6, 2016. Student O’Neal Stidum (right) camped with the strikers Tuesday and kept watch through the night. (Emily Chavous / Xpress)

SF State Vice President of Student Affairs Luoluo Hong sat down with approximately 30 supporters of the College of Ethnic Studies in response to the hunger strike to assist in “repackaging” the list of demands presented to administration by the Ethnic Studies Student Organization on February 25.

“I would like to offer myself as a multi-partial facilitator,” Hong said, noting she could speak more freely in a meeting than President Leslie E. Wong but could not act as a negotiator. “I am not in a place to make that judgement. … I only wish we started the dialogue sooner.”

Faculty and staff voiced concern about the administration’s reception to their demands, their inability to hire new lecturers to offer necessary courses for the upcoming Fall semester and a fruitless meeting yesterday between the strikers and Wong.

While other universities offer ethnic studies departments, SF State is the only school in the U.S. to have a college dedicated to ethnic studies. The College was founded in 1969 in response to campus-wide protests in 1968-69.

The present debate over the College’s funding began after a meeting Feb. 18, in which faculty were informed of potential spending cuts specific to the College of Ethnic Studies forcing the reduction of available classes. On Feb. 25, Wong attended a public meeting where students first presented a list of 10 demands, including “a restoration of all pre-2007 funding to the College,” “adequate resources for faculty” and “that all SFSU students be required to complete at least one lower and one upper division course in Ethnic Studies prior to graduation.”

After some discussion within administration, Provost Sue Rosser addressed a crowd of nearly 200 during a rally March 16 and refused to sign the list of demands.

Further meetings have proved futile for the supporters, sparking a four-person hunger strike that began Monday, May 2. Students stormed the J. Paul Leonard Library during an event Tuesday, May 3, when they learned Wong was in attendance. Though Wong was unable to meet with the students at that time, he did meet with them Thursday, May 5.

Associated Students President Shannon Deloso said the hunger strikers asked Wong a simple yes or no question: “Are you going to commit to $8 million for the College of Ethnic Studies?”

“He said no,” Deloso said.

Deloso clarified College supporters are not demanding an additional $8 million on top of present funding, rather they demand an annual budget totaling $8 million.

Today, Hong joined perturbed supporters of the College at 2 p.m. in an effort to “repackage the demands” for Wong. Wong was not in attendance.

“I do believe our president cares,” Hong said, although she was met with eye rolls, shaking heads and furrowed brows. “People are watching this, making assumptions about our (campus) values.”

Hong called the hunger strike a “tipping point.”

Associate professor of Ethnic Studies Rabab Abdulhadi noted that, “It’s been really, really difficult to get on (Wong’s) agenda.”

Golden Gate Xpress reported May 4 the Office of the President locked its doors for “safety” reasons related to the strikers.

SF State Asian American Studies department chair Grace Yoo holds up a list of student demands prior to discussion at a meeting Friday, May 6, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)
SF State Asian American Studies department chair Grace Yoo holds up a list of student demands prior to discussion at a meeting Friday, May 6, 2016. (Brian Churchwell / Xpress)

Ethnic studies lecturer Larry Salomon expressed annoyance at the idea of repackaging demands to “make (Wong) feel better.”

“There is a way to package this that is more compelling,” Hong said. “We have to first have public agreement on what we are working on.”

College faculty set up medical evaluations for the four students on hunger strike tomorrow morning, according to Salomon, who said the faculty encouraged the strikers to go home.

“They’re fine,” Salomon said, making a point to say he was not speaking on their behalf. “Some of us suggested very strongly this morning that they go home for at least a night, sleep on an actual bed. They’re going to continue their hunger strike. They’re not changing their plans.”

Asian American Studies Department Chair Grace Yoo expressed worry for the strikers.

“Many of us are very, very concerned,” Yoo said.

As the room began to address the “repackaging” of the demands 20 minutes into the meeting, the Xpress reporter and editor in attendance were told to leave in order to create a “safe space” for the discussion despite prior invitation by both College staff and the hunger strikers. The reporter and editor were invited to a press conference Monday announcing the results of the meeting.