The stake Pacific Islanders have in Ethnic Studies

Rex Halafihi makes demands to create a Pacific Islander Studies program at San Francisco State’s College of Ethnic Studies during the student meeting with President Wong on February 25, 2016. Photo: Bonita Tindle

We the students of the Pacific Islanders’ Club at San Francisco State, express our solidarity with the College of Ethnic Studies and the 4,594+ students in protest against President Wong’s proposed budget cuts to the college. We recognize the transformative power of Ethnic Studies on students of color and understand that the College of Ethnic Studies plays an irreplaceable role in the empowerment and affirmation of students of color. Beyond adamantly opposing the proposed budget cuts, we demand an expansion of the Ethnic Studies College to include coursework that accurately represents Pacific Islanders. We demand proper representation within the college of Ethnic Studies, separate from Asian American Studies, resulting in at least a minor. The Pacific Islander Studies program will be devoted to empowering Pacific Islander students and will be taught by Pacific Islander facility. Ethnic Studies is an integral component to higher education, personal empowerment, and community development. Currently, Pacific Islander students are unable access these services causing detriment to our community and academic success. By eliminating an iconic college, foundational to the culture of San Francisco State itself, the administration threatens the core of our university. Furthermore the exclusion of Pacific Islanders from the College of Ethnic Studies contributes to the systematic marginalization and erasure of Pacific Islanders from academia.

Education is not a business but a human right. President Wong has continuously framed the attack on Ethnic Studies as fiscally motivated. While budget cuts have affected all CSU campuses, President Wong’s proposed decision to cut Ethnic studies by 40% is a poor attempt to fix a much larger problem. There is no denying that the CSU system has been continuously underfunded at the expense of students and faculty, but to expect the College of Ethnic Studies to bear the brunt of the cuts, is a direct assault on students of color. The College of Ethnic Studies provides an academic platform for students of color to study their histories which have been wrongfully left out of mainstream American education. Thus, Ethnic Studies promotes personal empowerment and academic excellence among traditionally marginalized groups. Additionally, the absence of Pacific Islander courses within the College of Ethnic Studies denies Pacific Islanders this integral platform of education and empowerment. This exclusion and lack of representation results in poor retention rates among Pacific Islander students.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 18% of Pacific Islanders have a Bachelor’s Degree. Further, only 78% of Pacific Islander high school students graduate with a GED, as reported by the California Department of Education. For our community to thrive, it is imperative that we are well represented in educational institutions. We demand that San Francisco State University’s College of Ethnic Studies create a program in Pacific Islander Studies that is separate from Asian American Studies. Too often, Pacific Islanders are haphazardly associated with Asian Americans under the API (Asian-Pacific Islander) social rubric while our communities, histories, and needs vary drastically from those of Asian Americans. The API umbrella term renders our communities invisible and interchangeable. We demand that the institution, as well as the College of Ethnic Studies, create a program that affirms Pacific Islanders in our identities separate from Asian American Studies. Pacific Islanders are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups statewide and it is the university’s duty to facilitate and engage our communities.

The misrepresentation and exclusion of people of color from traditional American education promotes the systematic oppression of students of color, thus perpetuating institutionalized racism in the United States. Denying students of color their history, sets them up for failure by not providing the tools to necessary to understand themselves within the current socio-political climate. Ethnic Studies serves to reverse these damaging and inaccurate accounts of history and works to empower students on a personal and academic level. The failure to represent Pacific Islanders in Ethnic Studies is a tacit confirmation and acceptance of our systematic erasure. Establishing a Pacific Islander Studies program will allow students and faculty to explore and evaluate ways to bridge both cultural studies and experiences to the academic arena. This will help students apply critical and creative analysis to improve the wellbeing of the Pacific Islander community as a whole.

Spulu Pacific marching alongside students who are protesting the proposed cuts to the College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University on February 25, 2016. Photo: Brenna Cruz

The Pacific Islanders’ club is a historical organization that has been a presence on campus since 1995, and we have yet to be recognized within the College of Ethnic Studies. Unlike other student organizations who enjoy a basis within Ethnic Studies, our organization is left without a solid foundation. We recognize Ethnic Studies’ capacity to cultivate and create leaders within communities of color. Denying Pacific Islanders a place within Ethnic Studies, outside of Asian American Studies, hinders our community from empowerment, education, faculty support, and most of all student leaders.

We, the Pacific Islanders’ Club at San Francisco State University refuse to allow the dismantling of San Francisco State’s most historic institution. The College of Ethnic Studies has continued to inspire, educate, and empower the scholars of SFSU since 1968. We stand against not only the proposed budget cuts or future jeopardization of the College of Ethnic Studies, but move to expand the college to include Pacific Islander Studies. We demand that the Pacific Islander Studies program, outside of Asian American Studies, be established within the next two years, and constitute at least a minor. We are more than a week in an Asian American Studies course, and our histories are as rich and deep as the ocean from which we come from.

“We sweat and cry salt water, so we know that the ocean is really in our blood.” — Dr. Teresia Teaiwa, poet and senior lecturer Pacific Studies Victoria University of Wellington, Aotearoa

Pacific Islanders' Club

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The Pacific Islanders’ Club (PIC) is an organization designed to celebrate our many Pacific cultures. We are dedicated to creating a safe and affirming space.

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