In response to last week’s cover story, “S.F. State’s Jewish problem,” on May 5 SFSU President Leslie Wong sent this letter to the campus community.
Dear University community,
I am writing to you today with a heavy weight on my shoulders. This week I encountered both the re-emergence of posters on campus attacking and condemning the work of Palestinian activists and their supporters. At the same time a harsh critique of my leadership of SF State was delivered via J. The Jewish News of Northern California, conveying the hurt our Jewish students are feeling and portraying the campus response to concerns of the Jewish community as inadequate, at best.
So, let me be clear: I strongly condemn any anti-Semitic or Islamophobic rhetoric and behaviors, particularly when they cause our students to feel unsafe and they compromise the learning environment at San Francisco State.
I believe it is the fundamental role of a university to engage differing viewpoints and to evaluate their merits and shortcomings. It is this belief that compels me to unequivocally reject the concept of “anti-normalization” outright. While we must be allowed to disagree, all viewpoints should be heard. The First Amendment and our institutional values demand it.
The conflicts that are alive on our campus are an extension of conflicts that exist in the larger world. Many have been around for decades, if not centuries. We may not be able to directly impact the tone of the larger conflicts, but we can address how we treat one another and how these conflicts play out in the small corner of the world that is SF State. This University belongs to all of us. No person in our community should feel disrespected or unsafe, and we must all work together to ensure this is not the case. When others’ actions provoke anxiety and stress, we must rally around our fellow community members to reassure them that our campus is a safe place.
Eradicating deep-rooted bigotry is a monumental task, and it is not something I can confront alone or overnight. I have been working with my leadership team over the past year to develop stronger policies and processes to support a safe and welcoming environment for all students, faculty and staff. During this time, I have heard from some constituents that we have been too slow and our actions insufficient.
I hear your concerns, and I agree there is still much work to be done. Together we must move beyond policy and process to sustained action. To that end, I have instructed Vice President Luoluo Hong to provide weekly briefings on the pace and status of the investigation of the alleged exclusion of Hillel from the Know Your Rights Fair. Additionally, I will immediately begin the work of appointing a cross-university and community task force to develop a set of clear goals and an action plan. I am also requesting your input. Where should the task force focus its priorities, and what ideas do you have for improving the campus climate at SF State? Please share your ideas via this form.
I am inspired by the passion and care our community shows for this university each and every day, and I am committed to action on this critical problem on our campus.
Les Wong, President