a big glass building with students walking through a lawn in front
J. Paul Leonard Library at San Francisco State University. (Photo/Wikimedia-Webbi1987)

SFSU Jewish life coordinator, mandated by legal settlement, out after less than a year

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A newly created Student Affairs position at San Francisco State University, meant to serve as a resource for Jewish students, is vacant less than a year after it was first filled.

Sasha Joseph, a nonprofit professional formerly with San Francisco Hillel, was hired in July for the role of Jewish student life coordinator. Her departure leaves administrators searching once again for someone to help engage Jewish students on a campus that does not have a dedicated on-campus Hillel and has struggled publicly with claims of anti-Jewish sentiment and incidents targeting pro-Israel students.

The position, situated within the university’s office of Equity and Community Inclusion, was established as the result of a lawsuit brought by two Jewish students alleging discrimination by the university. The lawsuit was settled last March weeks before a trial was set to begin.

In an email on Monday, Monique Beeler, a spokesperson for SFSU, said the university was “thankful” for Joseph’s contributions during her tenure and wrote that a “formal search” had begun for her replacement.

“It is our top priority that people of all identities feel safe, welcome and supported at SF State,” Beeler wrote. “The Jewish Student Life Coordinator serves an important role… to ensure that the specific needs of our Jewish students are met and to better support their academic success.”

Among the events Joseph organized during her tenure was an Indian Shabbat in October, a Friday night Shabbat meal serving Indian food, held jointly with the Indian Student Association. Joseph has Indian ancestry.

Beeler said Joseph left to follow a new professional opportunity. According to her LinkedIn page, Joseph was hired by BBYO, the international Jewish youth organization, to serve as senior regional director at its Central Region West office in Foster City. She did not respond to requests for comment.

On Monday, a job ad for the Jewish student life coordinator at S.F. State was posted on the employment website Glassdoor. The salary range is $52,800­–$60,000.

It is our top priority that people of all identities feel safe, welcome and supported at SF State

Volk v. Board of Trustees, the lawsuit that led to the creation of the position, alleged discrimination and civil rights violations “sanctioned by high-ranking university officials.” It was filed by attorneys with the Lawfare Project and Winston and Strawn, LLP on behalf of the two students, citing an incident on Feb. 28, 2017, when S.F. State students affiliated with the Hillel were excluded from a campus fair meant for marginalized groups called “Know Your Rights.”

Faculty member Rabab Abdulhadi, an adviser to the General Union of Palestine Students, which helped organize the fair, wrote an inflammatory essay in the anti-Israel publication Mondoweiss defending the decision to exclude Hillel, writing: “the organizers refused to allow a member of a privileged white group whose members feel entitled to be represented everywhere and anywhere.”

An internal investigation by the university found that the students had indeed been discriminated against.

The Lawfare Project announced the settlement in a press release on March 20, 2019. The agreement stipulated that administrators would, among other things, issue a public statement affirming “Zionism as an important part” of Jewish identity; retain a consultant to assess SFSU’s anti-discrimination policies; assign an independent investigator to handle future religious discrimination complaints; and hire a coordinator of Jewish student life as a permanent position within student affairs.

In an interview with J. in October, SFSU President Lynn Mahoney said the coordinator and the Equity and Community Inclusion office would focus on making sure “everybody feels included” and would “provide a home for people who experience unwelcoming comments” on campus. At the time the university was also in the process of hiring a Muslim student life coordinator, as well as one for LGBTQ and Latino students.

SFSU enrolls about 29,000 students and is one of the most diverse public universities in the state. According to figures from the university’s Institutional Research office, about 15 percent of enrolled students are white, while 33 percent are Hispanic and about 26 percent are Asian.

San Francisco Hillel, located across the street from S.F. State, organizes events such as “Tuesday Schmoozeday” at the university’s Cesar Chavez Student Center, where Jewish students can connect over bagels and coffee. S.F. Hillel also administers Jewish programming for other colleges in the city, including the University of San Francisco and UC Hastings.

Acting executive director Rachel Nilson Ralston said in an email that S.F. Hillel is sorry to see Joseph leave the S.F. State position, but is appreciative that “the Jewish community will continue to be served by her.”

Ralston indicated that S.F. Hillel is “support[ing] the university” in its search.

“We still believe this role is central to bringing necessary change for Jewish students at S.F. State,” she wrote, “and look forward to partnering with them on campus.”

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.