Tag Archives: social justice


Staff Editorial: USF’s Divestment from Social Justice

We might be preaching to the choir here in reminding our readers and administration of the motto our university has adopted in hopes of inspiring its students Change the World from Here. But it seems that with the topic of fossil fuel divestment, it is our administration that needs reminding.

As the San Francisco State University and city of San Francisco begin liquefying their holdings in the fossil fuel industry, USF continues to resist altering their portfolio, disregarding the recent Fossil-Free USF petition that garnered over 200 signatures in favor of USF divesting from the fossil fuel industry.

According to the first official note Mr. Charlie Cross, USF’s CFO and Vice President of Business and Finance, sent to the campaign leaders, there are three major reasons as to why USF cannot divest: (1) There are illiquid holdings that USF cannot pull out of without incurring penalty. (2) Shareholder activism would be far more effective than divestment. And finally, (3) There are not enough fossil-free portfolios that USF can invest in.

When large institutions, such as ours, refuse to back-up large industries, a statement is made, even if the dent is not enough to make the industry stutter.

We, at the Foghorn, believe that the university cannot, in conscious, continue to support the fossil fuel industry without at least showing some acknowledgment of the impact our continued investment has on climate change and those on the front lines directly affected by it. Until our illiquid holding contracts run out, we can liquify our other assets and direct our attention to more friendly investments.

Trillium Asset Management Corp., “the oldest independent investment advisor devoted exclusively to sustainable and responsible investing” (as stated on their site), is currently aiding the city government with its divestment plans, and after being approached by Fossil-Free USF, has agreed to provide USF with options that they can invest in, fossil-free and guilt-free.

As students, we have provided numerous solutions and reasons to make divestment possible for the administration to seriously consider, and an imminent move is necessary as the environment continues to deteriorate under the effects of an industry that burns five times as much carbon as we can sustain.

The question of how effective divestment would be can be easily addressed. When large institutions, such as ours, refuse to back-up large industries, a statement is made, even if the dent is not enough to make the industry stutter. This fossil fuel divestment movement is modeled after the apartheid divestment campaign, for which South African President Nelson Mandela sincerely thanked UC Berkeley’s efforts. Divestment triggers a stigma — which has a far-reaching influence; it sends up a red flag to all investors and shareholders that they must change their practices or go out of business.

“We think that with the institutional power we hold, we can confront the most destructive industry in the world directly. We are in a certain privileged position as students at a university that claims social justice as a main part of their mission. [We are] standing in solidarity with front-line communities increasingly impacted by climate change and poisoned daily by the industry.” says Ashlyn Ruga ‘13, one of the spearheaders of the Fossil-Free USF campaign.

If the administration moves ahead with divestment, we would be the eighth university in the country to fully divest. USF highlights its efforts of composting and recycling, but with a crisis as urgent as this, and with our fellow global citizens being displaced daily, why are we standing by our investments while we stand by social justice?


Staff Editorial: Let’s Talk About Gender Pronouns

Sasha Fleishman’s skirt was set on fire last Monday on an AC Transit Bus in Oakland. According to police, the 16-year-old assailant, Richard Thomas, was motivated by homophobia (and transphobia). Thomas will be tried as an adult for aggravated mayhem and felony assault with hate crime enhancements. Fleishman identifies as agender, meaning neither as male or female.  The victim was hospitalized with second- and third-degree burns.

This piece began as a story for the news section, but while researching this tragic incident, something became very clear to the Foghorn staff: The media often does not know how to deal with proper pronouns when reporting on transgender, transsexual, and genderqueer individuals.

CBS News called the victim “Luke Fleishman, who also goes by the name Sasha.” The Huffington Post confidently used the gender pronouns “he” and “his” while noting that its journalists were taking the victim’s mother’s lead on using male pronouns. Sasha Fleishman is 18 years of age – an adult. Is it right to take the victim’s mother’s lead on this? Luke Fleishman is the victim’s given name, but classmates indicate that Fleishman prefers Sasha.

“We are stuck in a binary of man and woman, and there is not a lot of knowledge in between,” said Alejandro Covarrubias, Assistant Director of the Cultural Centers at USF. “Reporters are generally writing for an audience who isn’t familiar with anything in between.”

At the Foghorn, our writers usually find a source, get their name, hear their voice over the telephone, see a photograph of them online, and make an assumption about their gender. We are not saying whether this is right or wrong, but we are asking: Is it time to deconstruct gender binaries in the media?

The Gender and Sexuality Center’s (GSC) protocol at most events and programs is to ask participants about their major/minor as well as their preferred name and gender pronoun. Convarrubias said that they think it is best to let the person in question take the lead. But what if the person in question is unavailable, lying in a hospital bed with third-degree burns like Sasha Fleishman?

We spoke to Professor Barker-Plummer, the chair of the Media Studies department, who teaches “Gender and Media” at USF. She said her way of writing and talking about non-binary or non-conforming gender has involved using “s/he” and “hir,” along with neutral nouns such as “young person” and the subject’s last name. For example: “The young person [or Fleishman], who identifies as gender neutral, was set on fire while s/he was sleeping.”

National Public Radio (NPR) reported on April 24, 2013 that a teacher studied a group of middle and high school students in Baltimore that were using “yo” to replace “he” and “she.” The former Baltimore-area teacher found that these teens used “yo” instead of “he” or “she” when they did not know the gender of the person, and sometimes even when they did know the gender.

Covarrubias explained that some gender-neutral pronouns come from different linguistics departments and other academically grounded sources that aren’t accessible to certain youth that identifies as transgender or agender.

“If we all used gender-neutral pronouns all the time, it would help undermine a lot of stereotypes, not just help us to ethically represent (trans)gender differences,” Barker-Plummer said. We cannot help but ask, is this the future of reporting on all genders?


Staff Editorial: How Do We Know Our Halloween Costume Has Gone Too Far?

 One word: Blackface.

Let there be no doubt that we at the Foghorn believe in the spirit of Halloween. Yet recently, the media has covered many, including celebrities’, Halloween costumes that have pushed many tacit societal boundaries and we feel the need to put our foot down.

In the 1830s, blackface minstrelsy was a form of popular entertainment in the United States. It was suggested that performers donning blackface — literally painting their faces charcoal black — was a way to allow audiences work out cultural anxieties and race prejudices. These performers would then begin to entertain their fans in “black bodies” while being crude, acting promiscuous and using extremely racist slurs. There is also the fact that blackface tends to perpetuate physical stereotypes portrayed by 1800s cartoons made to isolate black Americans as the “other,” as well as ridicule them.

Once you try make their color a focal point of the costume, you take away from the person you are trying to embody.

In light of the Trayvon Martin tragedy, many college students this past weekend have circulated pictures of them on social media donning Trayvon Martin “costumes”, sometimes coupled with a friend dressed as George Zimmerman. Those acting as Trayvon Martin painted their face black, wore a large grey sweatshirt and held bags of Skittles and Arizona cans; while having their friends pointed plastic guns at their head wearing neighborhood watch shirts.

Beyond this being just, as many call it, “college students having fun”, actress Julianne Hough dressed as “Orange Is The New Black” character, “Crazy Eyes”, also painting her face black. She has since then apologized on Twitter due to public backlash at pictures of her that surfaced the internet, citing that “it certainly was never [her] intention to be disrespectful or demeaning to anyone in any way” and that she “realized [her] costume hurt and offended people…”

We would love to say that the aforementioned incidents of blackface that caused so much controversy this past weekend are isolated incidents made by a handful of people who obviously do not understand the racial implications of what they did, but college students every year are making this woefully ignorant mistake. And it seems that many do not understand that this just adds insult to injury in today’s society — a society that some people would like to label as a “post-racial America.” Yet it is obvious that race is still in the forefront of our country’s issues. The question is, is this because many are not versed in the history of blackface or is it because people really do not care about how racially insensitive they are?

The fact is you can tribute a favorite character or icon without having to bring their race into the matter. Once you try make their color a focal point of the costume, you take away from the person you are trying to embody. There is no need for “whiteface,” “redface,” “yellowface,” or “blackface” to make it clear that you are dressed as Michael Jackson or Nicki Minaj. And beyond that, we should not have to spell out the fact that dressing up as a seventeen year-old boy who lost his life to racial profiling and ignorance is sick and abhorrent.


A workshop held by Generacion at Casa Veronica to help children develop their skills. (Photo: Dana Leon)

Student Profile: Grad Student Interns with Children in Lima, Peru

Imagine children who are younger than college students, but their clothes are torn, their stomachs are empty, their wallets are thin, some are addicted to sniffing glue, some are sexually exploited, and their home is the street. Now imagine a place that will accept these children with open arms and help build an individual life project for each child. This place is called Generacion– where Dana Leon visited in Peru.

Leon is a 27 year old grad student at USF whose passion is children and social justice. She is a strong individual with a kind heart who had the opportunity to do an internship with Generacion and research their work for her thesis paper. Generacion is an organization in Peru centered in Lima that gives children a home and an opportunity to learn skills in order to live out their life goals.

Leon spent two months with this organization learning about it and participating in the outreach work. The first month she spent with the director of the organization, Lucy Borja, to learn what Generacion does. She also spent this time doing some translating for a group of guest visiting from England. After she learned the concrete information from Borja, Leon spent her time with Karla Vera, the psychologist of Generacion, working on the outreach aspect.

Her days would start around 10:00 a.m. in the streets of Lima, going to different districts to visit the children. In these districts Vera would approach children she knows to ask how things are going, in a way checking up on them to see if they are okay and if they need anything. These children are both girls and boys ranging from the ages of five years old to nineteen years old, with a few exceptions. They went from district to district, talking to kids and maybe meeting new ones. It is basically like keeping tabs on the children they know: the ones living in the streets, and the new children that arrive. Leon explained that these children are here because their home is not safe. They are abused by family members or others within the household and want freedom. These first couple of weeks were surreal for Leon as she was taking it in, she says, “I had no idea what to expect when I went to Peru. It’s something that we may hear but don’t pay much attention too, so you’re not going to know what to expect and that’s exactly what happened.” As time went on, she witnessed more and more of how these children live on the streets.

While Leon was working in Lima with Vera, they came across a girl about 19 years old. She was being sexually exploited. Her job was prostituting on the streets. Leon and Vera tried to tell her about an offer at a restaurant as a waitress, but as soon as they mentioned how much it paid, she declined the offer. She said she can make five times that amount in one night on the streets. There are more girls in Lima who are experiencing lifestyles like this and more kids working along side them in the streets, trying to make a living. Leon saw children who have to beg for food, prostitute themselves, sell candy to make a living, or go to bed with their stomachs empty and rumbling with hunger. These were the moments when Leon said: “Stop crying and stop pitying yourself because here’s an eight year old who has worked and made a living selling candy and in a way is independent. It’s incredible what these kids can teach you because they have to grow up so fast,” she said. She explained that it was important to put herself aside, because, “it’s not all about you, we sort of live in a society where its me, me, me and I come first. When really, lets look at the people around us, how are the people around us living?” That’s what Generacion tries to do, is put themselves aside and help these children. The children also do this for one another living on the streets. They’re like a family out there and always have each others’ back no matter what.

Leon spent a month on the streets learning what Generacion does and working on reaching out to the children, but the second month she spent the majority of her time helping at one of the homes Generacion created. Her days would start at about 1:00 p.m. and she would go to Casa(house) San Bartolo where a group known as the “surfing tribe” lives and operates together as a family. The youngest is Moises who is about five years old and the eldest is Lupe, who is 19 years old. It was a slow start for the kids to get used to Leon, but as time went on she started to build relationships with these kids. She explains: “First I was kind of watching and seeing what the dynamic of the house was and also getting to know the kids so that they could trust me and let me in. It’s one thing to let me into the house and another to sort of let me into their family, because that’s what they are, they’re a family.” They gradually started asking for help from her over time and invited her to be a part of the family.

She would get the kids ready to do their homework, help them with homework, make sure their hands are washed for dinner, mediate and resolve conflicts, and sometimes help in the kitchen. She would also tutor the head of the house, Lupe, to help her get better at english. Spending this month with the kids moved Leon in an unexpected way.

Leon explains how this trip was a very humbling experience for her because she met these children and heard their stories. She says, “regardless of everything that they’ve lived through on the streets, or at home with abusive parents, or abusive family members, or living on the streets with torn clothes and not having food to eat, and all kinds of things, life wasn’t over for them.” She said that the kids never seemed to pity themselves, mainly because, “[they] are so resilient, especially this group of kids, they are not easily pushed down. They get back up and one of the things that I saw was this hope. This hope that life doesn’t have to be this way.”

Leon is now continuing her research and internship with Generacion by trying to find funding for Generacion with fundraisers and grant writing which involves much time, work, and translating. Not only is she continuing her internship, but Leon is also writing her thesis paper on Generacion and the work they do. She wants to show the world that this is a successful model that should be brought to other cities in the world because Generacion does not just throw these kids in a home. They give them a life project, they give them love, they give them affection, they give them respect, and they give them hope.

If you’re interested in helping the street children of Peru, Leon suggests going to Peru to meet them. She says that Generacion will accept any visitors. Another option is to go on the Immersion trips offered by the University Ministry. If none of these work, see what social injustice is happening in San Francisco.

Subtle Racism Evident in New Smartphone App

Ashley is a junior international studies major.

Ashley is a junior international studies major.

Innovation and progress are the quintessential aspects of startup companies. Ideally, they will continue to provide solutions to the dynamic challenges faced by various societies.

Recently, a startup has emerged claiming to have the solution to a problem that resonates with me personally: safety. Wouldn’t you like to be able to know the safe areas of town when you’re traveling (or even just walking alone)? This business promises to keep you safer by giving you access to insight on “which parts of town are safe, and which parts are ghetto or unsafe.”  Unfortunately, not all startups share progressive virtues.

GhettoTracker, which has since changed its name to “Good Part of Town” due to immense scrutiny, uses crowdsourced information to identify “ghetto” parts of town. If you had any doubts about the good intentions of this service, their website is fully equipped with the obligatory photo of a white suburban family smiling in their yard. Presumably, those individuals would not want to be inconvenienced by the crime and violence that is inextricably linked to lower income or ethnic neighborhoods. Sounds harmless, right?

Services geared towards providing travel and safety advice based solely on crowdsourced information, aside from being wildly inaccurate, are perpetuating racial stereotypes. After widespread backlash from the online community, the startup seems to have removed its webpage altogether. However, clips are still available in all their glory, thanks to a series of Tumblr accounts dedicated to “Public Shaming.”

Startups like GhettoTracker (or “Good Part of Town”) are the antithesis of innovation. I find the fact that this was a serious business endeavor (and not a joke) to be truly disturbing. Their service –essentially categorizing large areas and populations of people based on preconceived notions of “local and expert” – is bound to produce skewed and racially charged results.

GhettoTracker’s attempt at packaging a way for privileged people to avoid minorities and less fortunate members of society is tasteless, but it also could have serious implications for public perception and policy. With all the progress and positive change that has arisen out of the social movements in San Francisco alone, how can the startup culture be so hospitable towards a company that so blatantly promotes and intends to profit from racist stereotypes?

Climate Destruction is Most Acute for Poor

When we flip on the light switch, charge our phones, or do the laundry, we generally do not give it a second thought.

But the amount of energy required to fuel our lives is astonishing. Most of the energy in the U.S. is not derived from renewables. Around 82 percent of our energy comes from fossil fuels — namely oil, gas, and coal. These dirty, finite sources of energy release heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere and are responsible for dangerously accelerating the warming of our planet.

What does this mean for the people of the world, especially the poor? It does not take an elaborate research study — though many have been done — to see that the communities most damaged by climate change are those of color and low socioeconomic status. The symptoms of climate change are evident in the most economically vulnerable communities.

Across the world, the poor are suffering disproportionately from the consequences of natural degradation, air and water pollution, lack of access to healthy food, poor environmental regulation, and rising sea levels. This trend is not at all coincidental. These are serious environmental justice issues that demand our attention.

In the last year alone, our country experienced record-breaking heat, droughts, and hurricanes, which impacted hundreds of thousands of people and cost our country billions of dollars. As climate change intensifies, economically struggling people will be forced to bear the additional burden of extreme climate-related events. As glaciers and ice sheets continue to melt, people living on islands and coasts will be the first to experience the catastrophe of rising waters. Many millions around the world’s coasts may be displaced in the coming years, and many will perish.

The urgent need for curbing fossil fuel consumption has motivated a group of USF students to start a divestment campaign, which is asking our university to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry. The group goes by the name of “Fossil Free USF”, and can be found on Facebook. A petition to express support for the campaign has been circulating the campus and is gaining momentum.

With Earth Day around the corner, one way to celebrate is to take some time to reflect on our own habits, explore ways to cut down on our energy consumption,  learn more about environmental justice issues, and write to our elected officials demanding that they implement policies that safeguard disenfranchised people and their environmental security. We cannot sit back and rely on the government to offer timely protection to the people who need it most. To those communities, climate change is more than just a possibility. It’s here, and it’s affecting them now. We need to rise up in the face of climate change denial and stand
by our fellow human beings in pursuit of justice.