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Human Relations dean: 'Individually and collectively we can do much'


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May 7, 2002

What follows is an email communication to the SFSU community from Dean of Human Relations, Ken Monteiro that was sent at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 7:

"We are near the end of an academic year whose achievements seem to be eclipsed by our painful memories of the deaths on September 11th, the war in Afghanistan and the resurgence of violence in the Middle East. These events have shaken all of us, but most particularly the Jewish and Palestinians members of our community. The former see the stability of Israel threatened, the latter wonder if they will ever see a sovereign Palestine, and both may be asking whether they will ever have a safe haven in the world.

At San Francisco State University, we are compelled to empathize with suffering in other parts of the world, both because of our fundamental values for social justice and because so many of our own community members have intimate ties to those who live on the front lines of the world's various conflicts. While it is unlikely and unnatural for us to feel comfortable in the midst of suffering, we should feel safe.

To the credit of Student Affairs departments like the Department of Public Safety and the Office of Student Programs and Leadership Development and the self-discipline of the members of the community, the campus by all objective measures has been extraordinarily safe, so safe that local news media have commented positively about it. At SFSU as in other communities that can demonstrate that they are objectively safer, however, many people still report feeling less safe.

We must not take for granted our physical safety. Emotional safety cannot be realistically achieved without it. Yet, our emotional safety is also very important and is not automatically guaranteed by objective physical safety alone. It will take conscious improvements in our interpersonal and community relations to address our perceptions of safety and our willingness to trust each other.

The University will enforce the prohibition against threatening speech and incidents of such threats should be reported immediately to DPS. The law, however, rightly protects most other speech, even hurtful speech. Though hurtful speech cannot and should not be controlled by law or policy, we are not helpless to address it. Our antidote to hurtful speech in a free society is more speech, corrective speech.

For example, a recent, healthy and corrective exchange may have gone unnoticed. President Corrigan wrote directly to a student organization that had included on one of its flyers an image impugning the character of another group of people. The organization responded to the president's letter with an apology for the act and a statement of what they had done to correct the issue. While offering an apology for the insult and discontinuing the use of the image, the group reasserted its right to express strongly and more precisely its political views. Thus, a direct, clear and constructive exchange encouraged positive change without censorship.

Individually and collectively we can do much to improve campus climate. Over the past year, some of us have worked directly with student groups or met with community groups. Some faculty have addressed campus climate in their classroom or sponsored teach-ins. As members of an academic community, we can gather information and share it. For more in-depth and authoritative sources of information, we only need to look to our colleagues.

University communications relevant to world and campus situations can be found at: Resources developed after the September 11th tragedies that are still useful can be found at: These resources include links to off campus resources, on-campus referrals concerning safety or psychosocial support, hints for maintaining hurt and hate free communication, tips for supervisors in dealing with tensions in the office, and tips for faculty in addressing these issues in the classroom.

For those wishing to be supportive of public free expression, attend the events held on Malcolm X plaza or elsewhere. One can attend to support a particular view or simply to demonstrate general support for those exercising their right to express themselves.

On May 17, 2002 in HSS 362 at 3:00 pm, Professor James Newton is hosting a discussion of peaceful solutions for violent conflict that will include two guest speakers, both relatives of victims of the 9/11 tragedies. One of the speakers will share his recent experience visiting with families in Afghanistan and the musical composition he created to commemorate his experiences. The Office of Human Relations (OHR) is co-sponsoring this event. All are welcome to attend.

The OHR is working with students, staff and faculty interested in peace and working on improving campus climate. If you wish to be included in this group, please contact me at 405-0434 or

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Last modified May 13, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs