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Activist State

1968 San Francisco Student Strike

Documentary: 1968 San Francisco Student Strike
Jonathan Craig

The 1968 student-led strike in San Francisco was the longest campus strike in United States history. The five-month event defined the University’s core values of equity and social justice, laid the groundwork for establishment of the College of Ethnic Studies, and inspired the establishment of ethnic studies classes and programs at other universities throughout the country.

The Black Student Union and a coalition of other student groups known as the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF) led the strike, which began Nov. 6, 1968 and ended March 20, 1969. Clashes between the strikers and San Francisco Police tactical squads made national news. Students, faculty and community activists demanded equal access to public higher education, more senior faculty of color and a new curriculum that would embrace the history and culture of all people including ethnic minorities.

As a result, the College of Ethnic Studies was instituted in 1969 and hundreds of other higher education institutions across the country followed SF State’s lead. According to a 1981 report issued by the Education Resource Information Center, 439 colleges in the country offered a total of 8,805 ethnic studies courses by 1978. “For the United States to adequately prepare citizens for responsible participation in a complex culturally pluralistic society and a multicultural world, ethnic studies should be represented in general education,” the report concluded.

“The idea of changing universities to be more inclusive and using academia to improve society remains relevant,” College of Ethnic Studies Dean Kenneth Monteiro said. “Even today in a globally focused world, many institutions of higher education have not expanded their curricula to include the histories, philosophies, sciences and arts of a greater range of the world’s intellectual traditions.”

This semester more than 6,000 students in 300 classes are studying the historical, philosophical and political foundations of African Americans, American Indians, Arab and Muslim Americans, Asian Americans and Latinos. The College, which awards baccalaureate and masters degrees, has awarded a total of 1,261 since the early 1970s. Part of the College of Ethnic Studies, the Cesar Chavez Institute is home to research and initiatives devoted to educational and health equity. The College works with other institutions on initiatives that continue to strengthen and redefine the field of ethnic studies.

Many SF State strike alumni rose to prominence in the fields of social justice, law, public health, education and public service. They include actor and activist Danny Glover, who was a member of the Black Student Union, and Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay, who worked on the strike as a member of the Philippine American College Endeavor (PACE) and was a TWLF spokesperson. Alumnus and statesman Willie Brown, then a young lawyer and legislator, worked to free striking students who were jailed, as did, former U.S. Congressman, Oakland Mayor and alumnus Ron Dellums.

Of the strikers who chose public education as a career, several returned to SF State and are currently on the faculty including Associate Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies and Professor of Asian American Studies Laureen Chew, Professor of Asian American Studies Danilo Begonia, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies Dan Gonzales, Professor of Raza Studies Roberto Rivera.

About “Activist State”

A documentary about the 1968 San Francisco Student Strike at San Francisco State University and the culture of activism that exists on campus today.

From 2008-2009, during my junior year of college, I developed and produced this documentary on behalf of the broadcast department at San Francisco State University. I was blessed to work with a talented group of students whose work can be found all over television and the internet today.

This documentary is the culmination of nine months of work, divided into four months of research and development, followed by five months of production and post-production. It went on to win the CSU Media Arts Festival as well as the local BECAfest student film festival at San Francisco State University.

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