Trustees unanimously vote to save Cantonese program at City College of San Francisco

alan wong coalition
  • City College of San Francisco’s Cantonese program was nearly canceled in Fall 2021 as a result of budget cuts.
  • Trustee Alan Wong, with support of over 20 Asian organizations, spearheaded a proposal to save the program.
  • The proposal, which was passed on Thursday, will have the college include Cantonese classes in degree- and certificate-granting programs, establish transfer agreements with other institutions, and develop a certificate with Cantonese classes.

Trustees of the City College of San Francisco (CCSF) unanimously voted to save its endangered Cantonese program on Thursday, delivering a sense of relief to students and more than 20 Asian organizations that supported its continuation.

The program was nearly canceled in the fall of 2021 due to budget cuts. The college, according to administrators, must prioritize classes that contribute to a degree or certificate, and Cantonese does not.

City College Trustee Alan Wong led the effort to save the program. He announced a proposal in partnership with over 20 Asian organizations.

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“Saving the Cantonese program is not only about protecting Chinese culture, language and history. It is also about the very practical need to ensure that our very large Cantonese speaking Chinese community has access to public safety, healthcare, and social services,” Wong said in a statement provided to NextShark. “Reduction of the program would be the erasure of an entire population that needs bilingual services.”

Wong was motivated to save the program after coming across a Chinese grandmother who fell victim to an unprovoked anti-Asian incident. Due to language barrier, the victim was unable to communicate with both the police and hospital staff.

“She had a big purple bump on her eye. She told me that while taking the 15 bus line earlier in the day she was punched in the eye for no reason and then shoved out the bus door,” Wong said. “Perpetrators prey on victims facing language barriers and those not likely to be able to get the help they need!”

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But aside from Wong’s personal experience, data also shows San Francisco’s need for Cantonese. In 2019, the U.S. Census Bureau listed it as a required language in the city, since it is, alongside Mandarin, the most common non-English language spoken by the population.

Of the city’s 659,184 limited English proficient client interactions in 2021, 43.6% (287,474) were in Cantonese. It’s unclear whether some of these were reports of anti-Asian incidents, which have spiked across the country since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In his proposal, Wong sought to include Cantonese classes in degree and certificate granting programs. Transfer agreements with four-year institutions — such as the University of California (UC) system — must also be established so that such classes can count toward a degree or certificate.

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The proposal will also have the City College develop a certificate with Cantonese classes. The whole measure is reportedly fiscally neutral and will not incur the college further costs.

Wong thanked the organizations and student leaders who supported the proposal after its passing on Thursday. He said the move was long overdue, but efforts will continue.

“Moving forward, we must redouble our efforts to support equal access and ensure that our large Chinese community is getting the language and culturally competent public safety, healthcare, and social services it needs,” Wong wrote on Twitter.

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He added, “This is just the beginning, our movement will need to follow through and ensure that the college develops certificate curriculum and transfer agreements with UCs.”

Featured Image via Alan Wong

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