San Francisco State University's College of Ethnic Studies Graduates: Champions for Justice
On May 25, San Francisco’s AT&T Park hosted fans - not SF Giant fans, but fans of graduating students of which almost 200 which have earned degrees from the historic College of Ethnic Studies. The class of 2017 brings focus to academic excellence, activism and social justice leadership. This delights Dr. Kenneth Monteiro, Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies who remarked, “the Class of 2017 reflects the values of the movement that created the College of Ethnic Studies and subsequently influenced the fundamental nature of San Francisco State University and public higher education nationally.”
Of the thousands graduating,12 outstanding honors students were recognized as representing their undergraduate and graduate peers from the Colleges in Business, Education, Science and Engineering, Liberal and Creative Arts, Health and Science, and the nation’s only College of Ethnic Studies (CoES). Undergraduate honors student Shannon Deloso and graduate honors student Alicia Garza represented the CoES.
Shannon Deloso. A Sacramento native and daughter of Filipino immigrants, Deloso is a first-generation college student. She entered SF State as a kinesiology major but found herself drawn to ethnic studies. After joining and becoming active in half a dozen school clubs, she became an Asian American Studies major with a minor in Race and Resistance Studies. Deloso also teaches ethnic studies at the Phillip and Sala Burton High School in San Francisco. According to a Stanford study, students of all ethnicities taking the ethnic studies classes co-designed by faculty in the CoES and the San Francisco Unified School District have shown great improvements in attendance and their overall grade-point averages.
It was in her Race and Resistance class last year where Deloso’s instructor announced it was possible that she might not return next semester due to budget challenges for the College of Ethnic Studies. She was part of the core leadership that represented students during weeks of talks with administrators across the spring semester. During that time, students staged campus demonstrations and four students engaged in a ten-day hunger strike. The coordinated effort garnered support from local community members and people throughout the country. Deloso said, “There was one meeting where almost 1000 people from the community showed up to support the students. It was inspiring to see that.” Subsequently, Deloso was elected to serve as President and CEO of the Associated Students Inc., the campus’s student government.
What began in February 2016 ended in May 2016 with a substantial victory. Besides the shorter length of the strike that took place in 1968, Deloso remembers one thing thatstood out for her the most. “It was pretty clear that this demonstration had a lot more women in leadership roles.”
Deloso plans to attend the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) this fall to pursue a MA in education. She has a passion for teaching and one day hopes to serve as administrator of her own school. She said, “Being exposed to ethnic studies informs everything I do as a teacher. It’s important to be able to expose other students to the roles and contributions we all make to our communities and our country.”
Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter is the graduate student honors hood recipient and also one of the commencement honored speakers. While studying for a MA degree at the College of Ethnic Studies, she co-created the internationally recognized Black Lives Matter organization in 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the shooting death of the unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin in Florida. It was a not-guilty verdict heard around the world that motivated Garza to write a love letter to Black people on social media which, in essence, expressed Black Lives Matter.
Although it took Garza eight years to complete her masters, she simultaneously was leading many projects organized around issues of health, student services and rights, domestic workers rights, ending police brutality and more. She gives credit to SF State Professor of Africana Studies, Dawn-Elissa Fisher and Dorothy Randall Tsuruta, chair of the Africana Studies Department for their support and encouragement.
Garza has a special reverence for the College of Ethnic Studies. “I feel really proud of this place. It has a really special history,” she said. “A lot of people who I was mentored by helped create the program that I just graduated from. It’s a special honor to be able to graduate from a program that people fought for really hard and won.”
Garza is referring to the historical SF State University student strike of 1968 – 1969, led by the Black Students Union and a coalition of student groups known as the Third World Liberation Front. Ending in March of 1969, the longest student strike in the nation’s history created a more inclusive university education that resulted in the establishment of the country’s first and, to date, only College of Ethnic Studies with its four original departments: American Indian, Asian American, Black and La Raza Studies.
Garza’s work with Black Lives Matters has received national and international attention as arguably one of the most important modern social justice movements. She and her co-founders were recently awarded the Sydney Peace Award, a prestigious award shared previously by Barrister Julian Burnside human rights advocate, Professor Noam Chomsky philosopher and social critic, former Irish president Mary Robinson, and author and climate activist Naomi Klein.
To be selected as one of the 12 honor students out of thousands is an honor, yet, each is an example of the persistence, talent and commitment to universal justice represented in all of the graduates who chose to attend SF State’s College of Ethnic Studies, an institution that encourages students to be open to their own transformational change in order to offer their talents to the world. Whether by co-founding a social movement, promoting diversity and equity in education or using the opportunity provided you by past struggles, each in her and his own way is continuing the traditions of justice crystallized by the ’68 Black Student Union, Third World Liberation Front, progressive white students and other community strikers who founded the nation’s first College of Ethnic Studies.
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