On Thursday, February 22, 2018, 13 student leaders met with President Wong following his request to meet.
Dear President Wong,
As a diverse group of Jewish student leaders and allied students at SF State, we were optimistic when you reached out to restart dialogue that had stalled for nearly a year. We appreciate it took humility to offer a personal apology. But we left the meeting disappointed and frustrated about the lack of concrete action steps, and concerned about the way you plan to share your recent realizations with campus.
We believe your apology was sincere. Atonement is an appropriate first step in mending broken relationships. But we are not at the beginning of this process. As some students expressed, two years ago, they listened to you express similar upset about students’ fears of publicly identifying as Jewish on campus. They listened to you then promise action. Some are now close to graduation and are dismayed that things are worse, not better.
The climate on campus is complex, and we agree there aren’t easy, straightforward answers. We believe it will take moral leadership and commitment from multiple layers of our university to navigate these issues.
Today we felt you were unprepared for the conversation you initiated, and the process you seek. You told us how in November you realized your prior failings in ensuring an inclusive environment for Jewish students at SF State. From there, you took three months to invite us to meet. And in that time, you apparently did not prepare any plan for how to take accountability or steps to mitigate the undisputed discrimination we students have experienced.
We were very frustrated today that you kept looking to the victims of discrimination for next steps, rather than providing tangible, concrete answers about what the Administration would do to improve the conditions for the Jewish campus community. Your comments in the meeting displayed an unwillingness to effectively utilize the role of the President.
So while we respect the outreach, it fell short.
Additionally, we have two categories of concerns about your plans to socialize your private apology with the rest of campus.
First, if you share your recent realizations about your mistakes, without full context of the past two years’ events, there will be confusion and possibly significant backlash towards our community. These fears aren’t without reason - SF State’s own investigation into Know Your Rights acknowledged that Jewish students were retaliated against for simply trying to fully participate in campus life. At a time where we seek to build understanding with our campus peers, an apology without an action plan may further marginalize Jewish students.
Second, for an apology to be full, effective, and to communicate your intentions are different from past pronouncements, it would necessarily need to:
We feel that if you are prepared to do this, the path forward should be fairly clear, as modeled by other university and offered to you by local community resources with expertise.
The meeting ended with you reminding us that a university is a place where difficult ideas are explored. We felt the need to remind you that we live and embrace that reality on a daily basis, encountering passionate rhetoric about Zionism, Israel-Palestine, and our intersectional Jewish identities and varying privileges. We aren’t asking that you shield us from difficult content or conversations, but rather help our campus find civil, non-discriminatory ways to learn and interact.
You stated that to change the campus environment for the Jewish community, courage would be needed from you and your staff. We hope that you find this courage by recalling the courage that we, as students, display every day walking onto a campus that has been complicit in allowing hate and discrimination against our community to go unaddressed.
Sasha Presley, Hillel Student President
Alexander De La Herran