SF State celebrates 50th anniversary of the College of Ethnic Studies

Aerial view of a crowd marching along a paved road. It appears to be a protest.

A demonstration at SF State during the Third World Liberation Front student strikes of 1968. Demands from the strikers led to the establishment of the College of Ethnic Studies. (Photo by Nacio Jan Brown)

Week-long series of campus events commemorate success of the first U.S. college dedicated to ethnic studies

When student strikers began protesting at San Francisco State University in the late 1960s, they had a long list of demands. But their grievances could be summed up by one of their two-word mottos: “Relevant education!” They wanted a university that was more diverse, less Eurocentric and ready to prove that it valued people of color and their perspectives.

Fast forward to today, San Francisco State is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its College of Ethnic Studies (CoES), which was founded to provide the relevant education strikers demanded. To mark the occasion, the University will host the College of Ethnic Studies 50th Anniversary Commemoration Week, a series of events on campus from Oct. 7 through 12 honoring CoES and its legacy as the first college of its kind in the U.S.

Co-hosted by CoES, the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost, the events that week will include panel discussions with veterans from the strike, presentations from community leaders, exhibits, film screenings, performances and opportunities for intergenerational dialogue with the founders of the college. Most events are free, with tickets to a few evening festivities available for purchase.

“Commemoration Week honors the history and struggles of those who were instrumental and key to establishing the College of Ethnic Studies,” said SF State Professor Emerita of Asian American Studies Laureen Chew, who is a co-chair of the celebration and a veteran from the 1968 strike. “These events also signal that the campus community and veteran strikers stand together in seeing the college flourish.”

Throughout the week, there will be a series of presentations and panels that include the 1968 strikers, members of the Black Student Union (one of the groups that led the strike), CoES faculty and community leaders. Presenters will discuss such topics as the role activism played in the establishment of CoES, how ethnic studies can be applied in the community and lessons from the 1968 strike that are valuable today. Veteran strikers will also share poems and other biographical pieces they’ve written that reflect their commitment to social justice and their work as activists.

The week will conclude with an evening gala on Oct. 12. Faculty, staff and students along with the University’s extended family of 1968 strikers, alumni, donors, supporters and friends are invited to gather, enjoy delicious meals together and listen to live music as a way to celebrate. Proceeds from the gala will help CoES provide financial and academic support to its many first-generation college students, develop more courses for ethnic studies and fund community-engaged faculty and student research.

With these events, College of Ethnic Studies Dean Amy Sueyoshi wants to not only bring the campus community together and discuss how to advance the future of ethnic studies as a field but also remember the people who helped make CoES what it is today. “This anniversary represents a half century of incredible efforts by staff, faculty and supporters of the College of Ethnic Studies and its curriculum,” said Sueyoshi. “We would never have come along this far without everyone’s commitment to educational equity and our love for our communities.”

For more information about Commemoration Week, including the full agenda, please visit the CoES anniversary website.

SF State Director of the Cesar Chavez Institute Kenneth Monteiro, who is a former dean of CoES, is also a co-chair of Commemoration Week.