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Open Letter Response to the SFSU Division of Equity & Community Inclusion email titled “Campus Climate Action Items, 2020-2021” sent May 6, 2021
Dear Division of Equity & Community Inclusion, Frederick Smith and Interim Vice President Hellwig and the Office of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management
We, the members of the CFA-SFSU Executive Board, write in response to the Campus Climate Action Items email sent May 6, 2021. In this statement, you claimed that the division of Equity & Community Inclusion at San Francisco State University has made influential strides “to address anti-Blackness, Islamophobia, antisemitism, AAPI hate, microaggressions, racism and sexism, as well as gender and sexual identity and other areas.” (It is unclear to us why gender and sexual identity are listed in parallel to the previous items, which are all forms of discrimination.) This rosy assessment serves to invalidate the experience of members of the campus community still suffering from these forms of harm. And without verifiable evidence of this purported progress, we cannot have confidence in the Campus Climate Action items described in your message to the campus.
Performative statements, such as your email, can be dangerous and harmful. Although SF State has been recognized for its demographic diversity, racial/ethnic diversity, this is not the same as having or striving for an anti-racist climate. The statements included in your email co-opt the language of antiracism to reinforce the fiction of racial harmony, all the while distorting the material realities of White Supremacy and anti-Blackness for Black and Brown students, faculty, and staff. Your email evokes the recent collection of essays found in Anti-Racism, Inc.,in which colorblind, multicultural, and diversity discourses reveal the appropriation of antiracist rhetoric as a strategy for advancing neoliberal agendas. We recognize your words as a representation of this unique phenomenon that requires careful interrogation and analysis. Moreover, we note that the stated action plan rests on an evaluation modality conducted internally, and by self-describing the successes, the university reinforces apathy and complacency rather than an authentic, transparent reckoning and acknowledgement of culpability regarding ongoing inequalities on our campus.
What, we ask, do the terms diversity and inclusion actually mean to you? How can a university that is subsidized by corporate interests, student debt, and exploited labor, embody or support diversity and inclusion? How are Black and Brown students, staff, and faculty safe in proximity to a campus police armed with military-grade weapons?
The illusion the May 6th email portrays is a type of racial harmony that assumes we have arrived at racial progress, that diversity and inclusion are mere boxes one can check, and that the work of inclusion is one of image management on behalf of the institution, its alumni, trustees, and corporate funders. We view your statement as a hollow proxy for meaningful action. Diversity is not auditable. You are the evaluators of your own Climate Action agenda. By self-describing only the successes of your current Climate Action Items, you implicitly endorse complacency, rather than a truthful/authentic reckoning with ongoing inequalities on our campus.
To this end, we implore your office, and that of the President, to apply for participation in the University of Southern California’s Race & Equity Center’s National Assessment of Collegiate Campus Climates (NACCC), which is a quantitative survey administered annually at colleges and universities across the United States. Instead of the conflict of interest inherent to self-evaluation, an independent assessment would provide impartial data, helping all members of the campus community to gain confidence in our campus’s efforts to advance equity.
In addition, we are asking the university to take advantage of the Equity Institute Program, provided nationally by the USC’s Race & Equity Center:
Each Institute is designed for teams of 20 administrators and faculty members on a single college or university campus, intended to increase individual competencies and organizational effectiveness to enhance equity, diversity, and inclusion. Each Institute has 8 modules collaboratively developed by expert scholars and practitioners across the country. These virtual modules are taught synchronously, with an Institute Faculty member and 20 participants simultaneously engaged on the same computer screen for 90 minutes at the same time, one day each week for 8 consecutive weeks. ~https://www.uscequityinstitutes.org/
We envision a transformative approach, rooted in authenticity and accountability, to achieve the structural changes demanded by marginalized students, staff, and faculty. Given the windfall of federal and state funding that we have recently received, we offer here numerous ways that that DECI can push for material changes to make good on the goal of being an ‘anti-racist university’. In short, if we know ‘how to be an anti-racist university’, let’s spend the money to make it a ‘university of Co-Liberation’ instead. We hope that this letter initiates such an accountability process, and we ask DECI for meaningful collaboration with the CFA and Black faculty on campus. Below we repeat many of the same demands we offered last summer.
We had asked for engagement within a forum as a ‘real time’ town hall where your office and the President will openly acknowledge the CFA Statement of Anti-Racism and Social Justice Demands and offer a safe platform for discussion. While the January Faculty Retreat ‘How to Be an Anti-Racist University’ was ostensibly successful, there was not one Black Faculty from Africana Studies assigned a spot to present a plenary. Not one. The CFA’s Council on Racial & Social Justice was also ignored and left without a single opportunity to engage. When you say that you have worked with all communities on our campus you erase the work and silence the voices of those most impacted by racial harm. Was this cold shoulder retaliation for the CFA Executive Board calling out the President’s all-white cabinet as #SFSUsoWhite?
The following is directed at the Office of the Division of Equity Community Inclusion.
At a recent ZOOM gathering (April 2021) produced and presented by the Soul of San Francisco State, the director of the Black Unity Center, submitted a video to the group of faculty, alumni, student educators, and staff brought together from the Graduate Education program. In this video they speak inaccurately to the origins of the Black Unity Center, stating that “six students’ began the Black Unity Center. This is false. The Black Unity Center, prior to the Upper Administration’s usurpation of it in 2019, was created by former Africana Studies Chair and faculty member Dr. Serie McDougal at the behest of his students, peers, and communi. His commitment to them was paramount to the center’s success. He was commended by the SFSU Academic Senate for this achievement. It was created by Dr. McDougal because nothing had existed prior to his action. This false narrative showcases your office’s negative impact on the work of Black Faculty. The erasure of heritages of Black faculty and students and the university’s corporatization of Black achievements for pockets and not progress (see Bold Thinking Campaign) contradict the claims of your email. We requested, last year, that the Black Unity Center’s governance be returned to Africana Studies, from whence it originated. That demand has been ignored.
In Dr. McDougal’s, the founder and inaugural director of the Black Unity Center, “A Sense of Community” 2017/2018 Academic Year Report, he wrote concisely:
It must be made plain that the Black Unity Center is an extension of Africana Studies, the Black Student Union and the College of Ethnic Studies. The Black Unity Center on SF State’s campus came into existence through the movement to equitably fund the College of Ethnic Studies. Ultimately, the Black Unity Center was formed through the collaborative efforts of the Black Student Union, Department of Africana Studies, College of Ethnic Studies, the Black Student body, and the support of Student Affairs and Associated Students.(McDougal, 7)
In contrast, on July 17, 2020, President Mahoney presented a list of bullet points regarding BLM at SFSU. The most confusing was this:
- Advancing curricula that support Black student success by increasing the number of faculty whose work lies in the Pan-African diaspora or who have a demonstrated record of success in research, teaching and/or service with Black populations. We will also offer pedagogical workshops for faculty, solidify pathways for double majors or minors in identity-based degrees and increase community service learning opportunities with our Black community partners
We’d like to know what this connotes. If this was to be a statement pertaining to Africana Studies faculty why was this not simply stated? Your office and all of your self assessment and programs would fall under this but it is us, the faculty, that creates the curriculum. Is this bullet point showcasing the President and the Office of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management office as being supportive of curricula for Black Studies? New courses are being approved and created by faculty that center on Africana Studies with absolutely no support or acknowledgment from the Administration. Where is your office’s support of AB 1460 the Ethnic Studies Bill? Perhaps a forum with the entirety of Black Faculty could be conducted. Please, for the sake of our members, and even those who aren’t, clarify the paradoxes that you present, which are deleterious and traumatic for Black faculty & students.
We would also like to address the DEI’s celebration of the inclusion of SF State in the WSJ list of diverse institutions. You write, “SF State is a unique and remarkable place. You may remember that last year we were recognized on the Wall Street Journal’s Best Colleges list – ranking in the top five in the “Environment” category. This recognition was for the diversity of the University, based on race, ethnicity, income and national origin of our students and employees.”
It is unclear what is being celebrated here. The term “diversity” comes across as a politics of feeling good, and implies that we’ve solved issues of inequality and thus encourages complacency. As Sara Ahmed reminds us, this presents diversity “as a quality the university already has, by virtue of the kinds of staff and students that already exist within the organization… diversity and equality work hence becomes about changing perceptions of whiteness rather than changing the whiteness of organizations.”
And as Jeffrey Chang clarifies, “…Corporations and colleges would appoint chief diversity officers and increase their holding of assets directed at ‘diverse demographics,’ while pushing ads — sometimes also doctored — that featured happy, diverse consumers,”
Further, this WSJ report reflects the student body, not our administrative staff, which is overwhelmingly White. The faculty are disproportionately White as well. This stands in stark contrast to the racial diversity of our staff and student body. The narrow and skewed view of “diversity” fails to acknowledge the unfair power dynamics maintained by a majority White administration with a majority of non-White student body.
Just this year, fellow public institution, Ohio State University, pledged to hire 100 faculty members from underrepresented backgrounds, and 50 scholars whose work addresses social equity and racial disparities. We no longer face a dire budget situation – we urge the DEI to strongly advocate for tenure-track cluster hires, to be drawn from the ranks of our exploited lecturer faculty.
You write, “The division of Equity & Community Inclusion works diligently with all members of the University community to ensure that we best realize the potential of our diverse community” and continue by saying that Faculty Affairs & Professional Development has created “initiatives to increase retention of faculty of color.”
We as representatives for the CFA, the Union for the faculty have been made aware of one initiative the Equity & Leadership Development Program within the College of Liberal and Creatives Arts, for which Frederick Smith is a part, has no Black Faculty leadership and is closed to Non-Tenured Faculty. Wouldn’t such an initiative benefit from the Black & Brown voices, whether tenured or not, to be sought out to contribute to these initiatives which you say are created to benefit them?
Despite promises by President Mahoney to meet and collaborate with the CFA’s Executive Board and the Council on Racial and Social Justice, the CFA was never asked to collaborate on any of these action items. You also fail to mention any specific material support for Black faculty and the curriculum they produce. We repeat our demand for resources that protect Black/Africana students, departments, and centers, and for greater mental health support in light of our long-understaffed counseling services across the CSU and at SFSU in particular.
Also, your claims of having inclusive searches are also unauditable. The CFA was excluded. The CFA was not included on the large search committee for the Vice President of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, nor are there any initiatives to always include members of the CFA Executive Board on all administrative searches. This type of initiative would be reaching out to ALL of the campus community, and most importantly faculty representatives that are not cherry picked by the administration.
Regarding campus safety, you write that through “the creation of a University Public Safety Advisory Committee, ongoing discussions with Associated Students, and a University Police Department (UPD) whose Chief is an experienced student services professional reporting to the Vice President for Student Affairs & Enrollment Management, our structure provides a significant advantage as we build a 21st century, student-centered model for campus safety.”
The Associated Students passed a resolution in July of 2020 supporting abolition of the University Police Department. The CFA’s Cops off Campus group made the same demands in October of 2020, and enumerated a robust list of actionable steps toward decreasing the University police force. When plans for the Public Safety Advisory Committee were announced last fall, we asked you, Interim VP Hellwig, to invite the CFA, Students for Quality Education (SQE), Black student organizations, external community representatives, and mental and public health experts. We asked that you treat this work as a community-led project rather than another bureaucratic committee. These requests were completely ignored. Further, the phrase ‘21st-century policing’ like its twin euphemism ‘community policing’ refers to policies that promote more police presence and which have been shown to further harm communities of color.
We do not need another task force to know that police presence on campus terrorizes and traumatizes Black students, faculty and staff. We do not need a police chief with student services experience, because we know the history of campus policing is rooted in suppressing student demands for racial justice. We demand information on the percent of the police budget that was reallocated to campus programming, as you promised to do nearly a year ago, and spend that money on life-affirming alternatives for community safety.
In the same July 2020 statement noted above, the Associated Students write “San Francisco State University has consistently noted the vision of Equity and Inclusion, but disregards the actions needed to ensure those truths be followed. We must remind ourselves what enabled the opportunity for equity and inclusion to exist on our campus in the first place: activism, protests, grassroots organizing, and calls for accountability.”
San Francisco State’s mythic status was created by the protest of Black and Third World students in 1968-9. The Bold Thinking Campaign saw the Office of Marketing plaster pictures of BIPOC students on buses, banners on and around campus, downtown San Francisco, and on BART. Also, in 2020, the SFSU website’s main page blasting pictures upon pictures of Black Students. This represents a sad bit of self-congratulatory tokenizing to use the shrinking number of Black students as visual capital for outside consumption when Black leadership is ignored and under-resourced on our campus.
We stand with our students and offer this letter as a repeated and urgent call for accountability and transformative structural change. We look forward to the first Black Faculty Forum with President Mahoney, and the newly hired, Dr. Jamilah Moore, the soon to be seated Vice President of Student Affairs & Enrollment Management.
The EXECUTIVE BOARD of the SFSU CHAPTER OF THE CALIFORNIA FACULTY ASSOCIATION
FROM “A SENSE OF COMMUNITY” ANNUAL REPORT 2017/2018 THE BLACK UNITY CENTER AT SAN FRANCISCO STATE UNIVERSITY
Message from the Director-DR. SERIE MCDOUGAL.
Malcolm X was once asked why people were so receptive to the teachings of the Nation of Islam in the early 60s when the organization had actually been around for such a long time before then. Malcolm responded by explaining that people react to social-political conditions just like a seed responds to environmental and atmospheric conditions. His point was that the social-political atmospheric conditions were ripe for change in the 1960s and thus Black people responded by increasing their involvement in self-determining organizations. The same analogy holds true for the emergence of the Black Unity Center on SF State’s campus. The current social-political climate can be explained by the colliding of two storm systems. One system is defined by emboldened and institutionalized racism, injustice, hatred, and oppression shaped by political and institutional leadership and other forces. The other system may be defined by an empowered sense of agency and a revolution of rising expectations for equity and social justice following on the heels of the election of the first Black President and in the midst of a Black political advocacy climate shaped by organizations such as #BlacklivesMatter. It is in this context that the Black Unity Center at San Francisco State University, within the Division of Equity & Community Inclusion, emerged. In this, its first semester of existence, the Center has been able to help the University to build its bridge to opportunity by increasing the university community’s awareness, appreciation, and understanding of the unique cultures and geographies students of African descent reach the bridge from and the unique identities and resources they carry over. Indigenous/pre-colonial African knowledge traditions, rooted in unique cultural and spiritual systems, were frequently structured as lifelong processes designed to empower people to be of service by advancing the collective lives of communities. During the antebellum period of enslavement, resistance, and liberation struggle, people of African descent in the American context continued to struggle to attend schools, construct schools, and to educate themselves under the constant threats of lynching, anti-Black terrorism, and institutional racism. In a monumental analysis of Black student activism from 1919 to the 1970s, Kendi (2012) identifies four challenges that Black students have confronted, including attempts to: use higher education to impose Eurocentric value systems and behavioral expectations on Black students; exclude Black students from services, opportunities, positions of leadership and exclude their heritage from the curriculum; present White people, ideas, and scholarship as normal and universal; and teach them to adopt individualistic, careerist, materialistic philosophies of success which require them to abandon the notion of education for liberation and community advancement. Black students fought these forces in several ways, including but not limited to , 2012): more holistic curriculum, and Black leadership on campus, increased Black student college attendance while protesting racism on White campuses, becoming involved in larger social-political issues and movements like the civil rights and Black power movements. This is the tradition that Black students on Sf State’s campus are advancing. Today, Black student populations around the country on campuses where they are underrepresented, each have their own stories. Yet, the all-to-familiar consistent narrative focuses on their struggles with feeling isolated, unsupported, and unwelcome on campuses where they encounter racism, marginalization, and exclusion in their attempts to adjust to campus life (Patton, Bridges & Flowers, 2011). Yet, the Black Unity Center has had an amazing semester creating a supportive environment. Students who frequent the Black Unity Center and its events have described the Center’s programming as creating for them a sense of community on campus. This has been one of the primary successes of the multi-faceted programming of our very first semester. According to our survey of attendees at Black Unity Center events, the most significant contributions the Black Unity Center has made have been introducing students to Engaging and Passionate Facilitators and Presenters, doing programs that provide Relevant Knowledge and Awareness, providing students with a Communal Energy and a Welcoming Space, and doing programs that give our attendees Inspiration and Upliftment.