San Francisco State University President Les Wong in his video message to SFSU Jews (Screenshot/YouTube)
San Francisco State University President Les Wong in his video message to SFSU Jews (Screenshot/YouTube)

S.F. State president looks to mend Jewish fences with short video

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Following a year of troubled relations between San Francisco State University and its Jewish community, school administrators began the 2017 fall semester this week by reaching out via a short video.

In that video, SFSU President Les Wong addresses Jewish students, faculty and community members, saying the current political climate has “unleashed dangerous social forces that do not and should not represent America in 2017. Increased incidents of anti-Semitism is one of them.”

Wong went on to condemn “all forms of anti-Semitism,” adding that he and his staff will be launching “new initiatives [that] will support events and activities that promote inter-cultural dialogue, equity and inclusion and social justice.” He did not, however, explicitly address what some Jewish students and faculty describe as a hostile campus climate, as outlined in a J. cover story in May.

The video was posted on the president’s website, the university’s YouTube channel and in the announcements section of SF State News.

Wong also emailed it to some Jewish students and faculty. Five of those students, all affiliated with SF Hillel, wrote back to Wong, saying they appreciated his “beginning dialogue with our Jewish campus community,” but taking issue with his having sent the video only to “five students and a few faculty.” They suggested he should have posted it on the university’s social media.

Noting that in the video Wong expressed his “anger and disgust” over the neo-Nazi rally in Virginia, the letter writers said, “this feels like a hollow statement when we are still waiting for you to publicly acknowledge and condemn events where Jews have encountered discrimination and threats on your own campus.”

Separately, Wong’s office emailed to J. details of the initiatives mentioned in his video. Spokesperson Elizabeth Smith said they are “part of a sincere, comprehensive and sustained effort to improve campus climate and support a welcoming environment for our Jewish students.”

They include a newly formed Division of Equity & Community Inclusion to work with student clubs and organizations “to close the educational equity gap” and “improve the student experience at all levels.”

Wong also formed an ad-hoc working group on Jewish campus/community issues, though no meetings have been scheduled yet. Moreover, the campus police department took part recently in an ADL teleconference after the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, and will participate in the ADL’s Hate Crime training next year.

All of this comes after several troubling incidents last year on campus, including the improper exclusion of SF Hillel from a civil rights fair in February and complaints about the administration’s slow response to the 2016 shout-down of visiting Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

In June, a lawsuit was filed by Jewish students and supporters against SFSU and the California State University system.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.