My SF State Story

Taking off the Shackles

Ramona Tascoe at Commencement

Ramona Tascoe (B.A., ’70) came to SF State to earn a B.A. in liberal studies. But her commitment to her ideals earned her something more: an important part in the University’s history. Tascoe joined the campus protests explored in this issue’s cover story — and in the midst of one of them she became the first of the student strikers to be arrested. She went on to receive her medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco and both a master of public administration degree from the University of San Francisco and a master of divinity degree from Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union. She’s practiced as an internal medicine specialist in Oakland for decades while putting her skills to work on behalf of communities around the world through medical missions to Africa, Asia and Haiti. But this spring she found time for another journey: to AT&T Park to address the Class of 2018 as this year’s Commencement speaker. Her address is excerpted here (and can be found in its entirety on SF State’s YouTube channel).

The moral compass of our nation has shifted in the wrong direction. We are living in turbulent times…many wondering if this is what it was like during the time of the U.S. Civil War, or the American Revolution. The stakes are high for all of humanity, both here and abroad.

Never in contemporary U.S. history have we, as multi-ethnic Americans, of indigenous, immigrant and former slave heritage, been faced with the enormous responsibility to actively make this nation a more perfect union.

Never have we experienced a frontal assault against the institutional pillars of our democracy.

I call on you today to consider the urgency of now. This is the time for you to connect the dots that link your individual career with the reality of these turbulent times. And so, I ask you: What will you do with your diploma?

Whether you are part of the problem, part of the solution, both or neither, I call on you to actively care about a cause, commit to a cure, devote your time your talent and your treasure with conscience and courage…because our nation can no longer survive on passive citizenship.

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 68 years ago under the oppressive regime of Jim Crow, strongman of the deep south.

My family immigrated north to San Francisco in search of freedom and equality.

As I grew up, though, I realized that our freedom and equality rested on our willingness to assimilate into a melting pot model that valued light skin, straight hair, white features, white style, white culture, white perspective as “the exclusive ideal.” This was a cause that I cared a lot about. As I got older, this cause got into my consciousness — deep into my soul, it smoldered and damaged my self-esteem. And by the time I got to San Francisco State College, I was carrying some heavy baggage, and I needed a cure.

So, it was in 1968, fifty years ago, that the Black Students’ Union of SFSC “(took) the shackles off my feet, so I could dance.” They envisioned for me and all students, particularly those of color, similarly situated by mis-education, and mis-treatment a pathway for healing. They formed a coalition of students and faculty, Black, Asian, Hispanic, white, who fought shoulder to shoulder in an historic four-and-a-half month strike to achieve 15 demands. More than 500 of us (myself the first to fall) were arrested, beaten and made to defend our cause against the San Francisco Tactical Squad and California’s National Guard. And we did so valiantly. When the dust settled, the students were not challenged when they declared victory.

  • There became increased recruitment and retention of students of color.
  • There became increased hiring and tenure of faculty of color.
  • Parity in access to higher education was significantly improved (nearly 30% of todays’ grads Hispanic).
  • Course content became more relevant, balanced and fact-checked for integrity.
  • Culturally sensitive, competent and effective pedagogical styles emerged.
  • The College of Ethnic Studies was born — established in 1969, bringing along with it the gradual and systematic debunking of the nation’s “melting pot model” — eliminating the monopoly held by European-American culture — favoring now: diversity and multi-culturalism.

Heroic students, your very age, were not asking what America could do for them; they were doing for America that which was needed (and long overdue)….