San Francisco student hunger strikers win ethnic studies agreement

Third World Liberation Front 2016 celebrates victory.

Third World Liberation Front 2016 celebrates victory.

Four hunger strikers — Hassani Bell, Ahkeel Andres Mestayer, Julia Retzlaff and Sachiel Fredric Rosen — together with the Third World Liberation Front 2016, all students at San Francisco State University, declared victory May 11 after they signed an agreement with the SFSU administration which included funding of $482,806. (This is in addition to an already previously conceded $250,000 for the 2016/17 academic year.)

Ten student demands were originally presented to the administration on Feb. 25. After an active campaign to press the demands was ignored, the four students began their hunger strike on May 2, pitching tents on a grassy area in the center of the campus. Negotiations leading to the settlement finally moved quickly after one of the strikers was hospitalized and SFSU President Les Wong agreed to meet with them.

Highlights of the agreement include:

  • Funding for two full-time tenure track faculty positions in Africana Studies
  • Appointment of a working group to increase recruitment of underrepresented minorities
  • Work study funds for four students at the College of Ethnic Studies for the 2016/17 academic year
  • Support for the review and restructure of the College of Ethnic Studies graduate program
  • Increase from half to full time for the College’s Development Officer
  • Funding for the Race and Resistance Program to be converted to department status
  • Movement of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Program to the CES
  • The launch of a program in Pacific Islander Studies with two classes in the fall of 2016
  • Regular, ongoing meetings between the administration and students on academic programs
  • No disciplinary action against any of the people involved in this campaign
  • Discussions with the Academic Senate on a more transparent budget process
  • Meetings with constituents of the Arab and Muslim Ethnicities and Diaspora Initiative to develop a plan to reinstate two tenure track faculty lines.

Bell, an Africana Studies major, talked about the strike to this reporter as they were celebrating their victory. Asked why he joined the hunger strike, he said, “The budget cut would have eliminated about 40 percent of the faculty and most of the graduate programs.” His thoughts on the victory? “It’s bittersweet. I know the work is not over; we didn’t get all the demands that we wanted. There’s still a lot of work to do. I am happy that we were able to advance the college, but the fight never stops.”

The students involved in this campaign named themselves the Third World Liberation Front 2016 in honor of the original students who fought for and won the creation of the College of Ethnic Studies in 1968. Actor Danny Glover was a member of the Black Student Union and one of the students who went on strike at that time. He came and spoke in support of the strikers on May 9.

More information about the students’ demands and the strike can be found on their Facebook page, “Defend and Advance Ethnic Studies at SF State.”

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