College of Ethnic Studies to honor exemplars of social justice

Founded four decades ago on the principles of equality and economic justice, SF State's College of Ethnic Studies is set to honor individuals who embody those values today.

A photo of Dean of Ethnic Studies Kenneth Monteiro

Dean of Ethnic Studies Kenneth Monteiro

The six educators and activists who will receive 2012 Exemplary Leadership Awards at the college's 43rd anniversary celebration on Sunday have spent years fighting for underrepresented populations in San Francisco and beyond. In doing so, said Dean of Ethnic Studies Kenneth Monteiro, they advance the causes that led to the college's creation.

"They teach and lift up, which means give currency to the movement," he said.

The College of Ethnic Studies resulted from the combined efforts of several movements that united behind their demand for a university that better served and supported minority populations. They included the Black Empowerment movement as well as Latino, Asian American and Native American movements.

"The movements that led to the college have underneath them equality of humanity," Monteiro said. "You teach to respect all humanity, even if you don't agree with it. The other part of the mission is to be relevant to the economic justice of all people."

The six honorees were selected for their ongoing commitment to those principles. They are purposefully designated as "exemplars," he added, because they are both outstanding individuals and examples of the larger movements.

The honorees include:

  • J.E. "Penny" Saffold, who recently retired as SF State's vice president of student affairs after more than three decades at the University during which she promoted student leadership and educational opportunities for minority students
  • Eric Quezada, an activist who until his death in 2011 directed Dolores Street Community Services, providing housing and sanctuary to immigrants and the working poor
  • Jacob Perea, a teacher, administrator and activist who served SF State for 35 years and co-founded Step to College, a program to help underrepresented high school students access higher education
  • Raúl Alcaraz Ochoa, an SF State alum and community organizer in Arizona who has fought for educational justice and LGBT and migrant rights
  • Terry Collins, an SF State alum who founded the independent radio station KPOO
  • Ben Kobashigawa, a professor of Asian American Studies at SF State, scholar of Okinawan immigrant history and board president of the Japanese American National Library

The event provides a chance for the college to acknowledge its past, recognize those who represent its values in the present and rededicate itself to the cause of social justice for the future, said Monteiro.

"Gratitude is a socially transformative process that helps recommit everybody to the cause," he said. "We count on the principle of 'pay it forward.' We acknowledge people who gave to us and we commit to pay it forward to the next generation."

The celebration will also advance the causes of social and economic justice in another way. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Cesar Chavez Institute's Community University Empowerment Fund, which provides money for student and faculty projects that benefit communities of color.

The Annual Awards and Celebration event has been taking place since 2009. This year's ceremony will be dedicated to James A. Hirabayashi, the first dean of ethnic studies who passed away this year.

The event will take place from noon to 3 p.m. Oct. 7, opening with a reception and the awards ceremony at Yoshi's restaurant and concluding with a reception in the adjacent Jazz Heritage Center's Lush Life Art Gallery. For more information, contact the dean of Ethnic Studies' office at (415) 338-1693.

-- Jonathan Morales