President, San Francisco State University
Early in Robert Corrigan’s tenure as president of San Francisco State University, students posted a mural on campus that included antisemitic symbols. Corrigan took a strong stand against the hateful imagery, and had the mural sandblasted off. As a result of that turmoil—and the persistence of antisemitism on university campuses—Corrigan decided that San Francisco State should have a concrete plan for addressing such incidents when they occur.
ROBERT A. CORRIGAN:
Presidents of higher-education institutions have to be willing to speak out on issues that are important not simply to the campus, but society as well.
Early in Robert Corrigan’s tenure as president of San Francisco State University, students posted a mural on campus that included antisemitic symbols. Corrigan took a strong stand against the hateful imagery, and had the mural sandblasted off. As a result of that turmoil—and the persistence of antisemitism on university campuses—Corrigan decided that San Francisco State, and perhaps all universities, should have a concrete plan for addressing such incidents when they occur.
Welcome to Voices on Antisemitism, a podcast series from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum made possible by generous support from the Oliver and Elizabeth Stanton Foundation. I'm Aleisa Fishman. Every month, we invite a guest to reflect about the many ways that antisemitism and hatred influence our world today. From San Francisco, here's Robert Corrigan.
ROBERT A. CORRIGAN:
At San Francisco State, we have had charges that people were harassed on the campus for wearing the Star of David. We had an atmosphere in which it almost appeared like permission was being granted for people to express sentiments that ultimately were seen as antisemitic in the guise that it was debate over the Middle East. And it became important that the president and the administration make as clear and as unequivocal as they could that there was no place for that kind of language or behavior on the campus. And we have, I think, been successful in getting people to appreciate that you could have debate that didn’t have to turn rancorous.
We have what we call a Crisis Response Team. So if something like this comes along, then at the upper levels of the administration we figure out: how do we deal with this? Is this something that needs media attention? Is this something that needs committees of faculty involved? Is this something that requires a statement from the president? Is it all three of these, or more of these, things? And we got the students engaged. Secondly, we have discovered that we've got to involve the larger community as well. We have brought together, for example, members of the local Arab-American community in a year-long forum with members of the Jewish community and others. We don’t allow these things to be ignored.
What’s that new phrase that everybody’s using now—“man up”? Presidents tend to be surrounded by people who are always cautioning about what donors think, what your image is going to be with this community or that community. You have to listen to people, but you have to affect the dialog as well. To say to a president that he shouldn't speak out on issues or she shouldn't speak out on issues is wrong, and yet increasingly we see that presidents are so concerned about raising money, presidents are so concerned about not offending anybody, that there is a tendency for us to remain quiet and not to speak out. The president has got to stand up for what’s right.
Voices on Antisemitism is a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Join us every month to hear a new perspective on the continuing threat of antisemitism in our world today.
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