BERKELEY’S GREEN GAS STATION IS ALL BIOFUEL AND BEES / STUDYING ABROAD DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC / MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES FACE HIGH DEMAND AT SF STATE / THE FINANCIAL AND EMOTIONAL TOLL OF ANOTHER CANCELED GRADUATION / HOW COVID-19 AFFECTED FISHERMAN’S WHARF
SASKIA HATVANY editor-in-chief ALBERT GREGORY managing / copy editor ALBERT SERNA JR. content / multimedia editor MORGAN ELLIS photo editor CASH MARTINEZ social media editor NICOLE GONZALES online editor
SELENA ZHAO art director
GARRETT ISLEY MAXIMO VAZQUEZ NICOLAS CHOLULA PARIS GALARZA SABITA SHRESTHA RENE RAMIREZ KARINA PATEL BIANCA HEREDIA RASHIK ADHIKARI ABRAHAM FUENTES
LORENA GARIBAY EMILY CARDENAS OLIVER MICHELSEN ANNE KRISTOFF JUSTINE BRADY
OASIS IN THE GASLANDS
STUDYING ABROAD DURING A GLOBAL PANDEMIC
CRUCIAL SF STATE MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES STRUGGLE TO MEET DEMAND
INSIDE FISHERMAN’S WHARF’S DEPLETED TOURISM
GRADUATION CANCELLED ONCE AGAIN
ON THE COVER
OLD SCARS NEW INK
January 2022 — it seemed like it was never going to happen. Then suddenly it did. The Xpress magazine staff was allowed to return to campus for the first time since the global virus outbreak that forced much of the world into 16:9 rectangles. Just a few weeks into the semester, we abruptly found ourselves living and breathing together in a three-dimensional room with walls and a ceiling and, very weirdly, the other half of our bodies. This issue was brought to you by a team of students who, in many ways, had to learn how to be students again. It was brought to you by that joyfully awkward first walk through the door of classroom 310 and the frustrating uncertainty we have learned to live with over the past two years. Even though we remain suspended in pandemic purgatory, there is a palpable joy in the air as students meander through the once deserted halls of the Humanities building. That tension is brought to life through the following issue — equal parts frustration and celebration, as we diligently shake the sand out of our boots and dip our toes into the world again.
Co-owner and current co-founder Novella Carpenter poses for a portrait at the BioFuel Oasis Cooperative in Berkely on Feb. 5, 2022. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
Oasis in the Gaslands BioFuel and bees at Berkeley’s alternative gas station BY ALBERT SERNA JR. Joe McCauley checked the side of his car for any spilled oil. “It will strip the paint off your car if you’re not careful,” he said. “But it’s good for the environment and your car. Diesel engines love it.” McCauley drives a 1984 Mercedes 300D and fuels it with biodiesel, an eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuel made from recycled vegetable oil. He comes to the BioFuel Oasis Cooperative in Berkeley several times a month because, he said, it’s better for his car. “It’s better for your engine, actually, if you can believe that. And it smells good,” he said. There is a stack of straw that rests against the back of the small brick building, either reflecting the sun at drivers or shining on an overcast day drawing the eye from the surrounding area. The sounds of honking and the occasional screeching of tires on the busy intersection of Ashbury Avenue and Sacramento Street betray the illusion that the station exists somewhere outside of the city. The idea for the BioFuel Oasis began in 2003 in a hot tub, according
to Jennifer Radtke’s Zine, Not a Gas Station. Radtke’s friend, SaraHope Smith, asked if she was interested in starting a business. “We had a meeting to talk more about her idea. In true Californian style, we talked while soaking in a hot tub at night under the stars.” At the time, Radtke was making biodiesel and teaching classes on how to do so in Berkeley and Oakland as part of the Berkeley Biodiesel Collective, a group of volunteers and activists for biodiesel. It was there that the seeds for the BioFuel Oasis were planted. “This guy came to the meeting and said there should be a Chevron or something selling bio, like the goal should be that every gas station has biodiesel,” Radtke said. “And that really annoyed me because I was like, ‘No, that’s not what should happen.’ Because what’s the point of giving your money to a big corporation?” It was around that time that Smith, another founding member of the original location, met with Radtke in the hot tub and asked if she wanted to start a station. Unlike the impersonality of a traditional gas
station, the BioFuel Oasis would be a place for community to connect. “I want to create a place that has a connection that is a locally owned business, so the money that is being spent is staying local, going to good people,” Radtke said. The space they settled on was a small warehouse on Fourth Street where cars could pull in and fuel up. They sparsely sold books and candybar supplements, but people primarily went for the eco-friendly fuel and community. “We had like this red couch in there, and people would come and sit for like an hour, talk to other customers,” Radtke said. “It became this very community space.” It was also around that time that current co-owner, Novella Carpenter, came around. “We’d have to go scrounge for veggie oil at night and the dumpsters and was super dirty, you know, you just like covered in grease at all times, and we would make biodiesel,” said Carpenter. Carpenter, a journalist and adjunct professor at the University of California, San Fransisco, said she got
XPRESS MAGAZINE The BioFuel Oasis Cooperative open in Berkeley on Jan. 29, 2022. At the intersection of Ashby Avenue and Sacramento Street, the converted gas station sells canisters of biodiesel and urban farming supplies. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
involved after writing a piece about the collective for the East Bay Express. “And then I was like, ‘I want to know more about this cool place.’ And then before long, they hired me,” said Carpenter. Since then, the BioFuel Oasis has moved locations to where it currently is now on the corner of Ashbury Avenue and Sacramento Street. The owners took over a former gas station and made it into a model of sustainability in 2007 and opened in 2008. There was only one pump at their original station, which meant employees would use carboys–canisters of fuel–to hand-fill customer tanks. They would have to lift the jugs and pour them individually. The new and current location has four pumps, allowing them to offer more biodiesel to customers while making it more accessible. “Having four pumps really changed the game,” said Carpenter, adding they put in solar panels and used natural building inside the shop in an effort to make the building into a model of sustainability. But after the move and rebuilding, the new location faced some uncertainty. The recession hit. “It was like ‘wamp wamp.’ But it was fine, I mean, we ended up pulling through, and we’ve really gone through a lot of changes and different people working here. And it’s always a really vibrant scene,” Carpenter said. Now, on any given Saturday, customers come by to buy fuel, feed and other things for urban farming. Customers, like Casey Parkhurst and Ashley Scism, stopped by to buy materials for their apiary.
“We’re here buying parts for beehives,” Parkhurst said. “We’ve been keeping bees for about 15 years, but we’re going to now have our own bees at our own house for the first time ever.” Aside from parts for a beehive, Parkhurst and Scism were also there to pick up a nucleus, which is a way to start an apiary. It includes five frames and a queen. Starter kits for beekeeping are just another feature of the BioFuel Oasis, which also sells natural care products, seeds, succulents, feed and books. The accessibility of the fuel is another reason why people come by, said co-owner Kate Hobbs. The modernization of getting the fuel has helped encourage urban farming and apiary customers consider switching to biodiesel. “It has the same card reader type setup, it has the same pump type setup helps people to think, ‘OK, maybe I could make that switch,’” said Hobbs, who started as a customer for the chicken feed that the cooperative sells before being hired and eventually joining the BioFuel Oasis. But there is a downside to running a biodiesel station. They are regulated by what kind of fuel they can sell. According to Carpenter, around 2014, the California Air Resources Board, which regulates biodiesel, changed the regulations. “[They] made it so we couldn’t sell biodiesel like we were selling,” Carpenter said. “We were selling B99, so like 100% biodiesel.” She added that the CARB made it so that retailers could only sell 20%. “The California Air Resources Board going off one study showed that there was more nitrous oxide
We’d have to go scrounge for veggie oil at night and the dumpsters and was super dirty, you know, you just like covered in grease at all times, and we would make biodiesel.
emitted from biodiesel than regular diesel,” Carpenter said. “So, we switched to the 80% renewable diesel, which is a cool product, because it’s still not a petroleum product.” Soon after her return, Hobbs and Carpenter decided that they could offer more for the community, which is when they started offering classes on urban farming and beekeeping. They did this because they sensed that people wanted more hands-on learning. “People are really searching for something tangible; I think our classes offer that and usually Kate and I like to do pop-ups because it’s free,” Carpenter said The hope for the free classes is to give back to the community, to create a lasting change. “We want to be that spot where we’re welcoming neighbors. We’re hanging out. We’re all in it together, and we’re learning how to grow stuff together,” Carpenter said.
Because the BioFuel Oasis is a cooperative business, it means it is owned by the people who work there. Carpenter believes that this structure allows for a more impactful working relationship with both the business and the community. To her, it is a more fulfilling way to earn a living. “The reason I love it is because I feel like we have to do something different as a species like the status quo isn’t working right for anybody. And everybody is unhappy, and they’re in their cars, and it sucks,” Carpenter said. “But if you’re working at this wonderful gas station, there’s so many cool people that come in and meet all these like random people that are doing really amazing work.”
Joe McCauley, a recurring customer at the Biofuel Oasis Cooperative, fills his 1984 Mercedes 300D with biodiesel on Feb. 5, 2022. The Biofuel Oasis is a middle point in McCauley’s commute to work in San Francisco, and he has been a regular customer for multiple years. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
The interior of the Biofuel Oasis Cooperative on Jan. 29, 2022. While customers fuel up their vehicles outside, they can also visit the inside for a variety of urban farming supplies and other locally sourced goods like candles and tote bags. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
Kate Hobbs, co-owner of the Biofuel Oasis Cooperative, helps a customer with canisters of biodiesel at their Berkely station on Feb. 5, 2022. Customers fuel their vehicles by hand, and then the empty canisters are returned to the Oasis to be refilled to continue the cycle. (Morgan Ellis / Xpress Magazine)
Up in the Air BY LORENA GARIBAY
It was early 2019, Miu Takahashi had finished packing her three suitcases that would accompany her on the long flight from Japan to the U.S. She had decided to study abroad at San Francisco State University. But during her second semester, Takahashi was back on a flight to Japan. The pandemic had started. During the coronavirus pandemic, SF State international and studying abroad students faced new and unexpected challenges. They had to decide whether they would stay abroad or go back home and say goodbye to newly made friends. Takahashi, a Japanese international student who arrived at SF State in Fall 2019, returned home to Japan once the pandemic hit in part due to the rising racism and hate crimes against the Asian community. Although she was thankful for the online courses, she remained worried about the Asian hostility sparked by the pandemic. “So because the virus is from Asia...I was a bit scared because I’m an Asian person,’’ said Takahashi. “ So I went back to Japan and stayed.” The students who decided to stay abroad or returned to their home countries but remained enrolled faced another challenge when taking online courses—different time zones. That meant classes would be held in the middle of the night for some students due to the time difference. She returned to SF State in the Fall 2021 semester. During the year and a half that she stayed in Japan, she continued to take online courses.
The pandemic did not just affect the students traveling abroad; it also meant that SF State faculty had to figure out new ways to help students. “It was, as you can imagine, a very difficult transition during the pandemic,” said Marilyn Jackson, who has a doctorate in education. “We had study-abroad students who needed to come home; we had international students who weren’t sure what they wanted to do. Did they want to stay, did they want to go?” Jackson is the current interim assistant vice president to the division of international education at SF State and has worked in the university’s office of international programs for 23 years. Although some opted to return, not all students decided to go back home. Eric Peng is an SF State alumnus and majored in Japanese. A ChineseAmerican born and raised
Eric Peng ( Esteban Renteria / Xpress Magazine )
Study abroad students confronted a difficult decision at the onset of the pandemic: stay and face getting stuck, or leave and face online courses.
in San Francisco, Peng was scheduled to study abroad in Japan from Spring 2019 to Fall 2020. However, when the pandemic hit a few months into his trip, he decided to stay because he didn’t want to give up the opportunity to study and explore Japan. Peng experienced all of his classes through Zoom while he was in Japan. During this time, he could still go outside of the dorms despite Japan’s strict pandemic restrictions. He was left with mixed feelings about remote learning. “Honestly, it was kind of convenient. At the same time, I definitely would rather have been on campus because, you know, you’re studying abroad. You want to experience everything. You want to meet new people on campus,” Peng said. ”But I was still in Japan. So, I still got to do things that I wanted to do.” Additional online classes were made available to studyabroad students who needed to return home. Janelle Waldrep, who has a doctorate in education, is the lead study abroad officer at SF State, a position that she began to fill at the start of February 2022 after working at the university for nine years. She recalls the initial efforts made by SF State and overseas universities when trying to ensure students’ safety and remain connected with those still abroad. “I can’t thank the risk management office enough. They’ve been absolutely wonderful and instrumental in helping us coordinate all the different plans because this was definitely an unprecedented event,” said Waldrep. Bárbara Burgués studied abroad at SF State during the Fall 2021 semester. Her father is Spanish, and her mother is Italian. She was born and raised in Venezuela but went to Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands for her
bachelor’s degree. She currently lives in Mountain view. Burgués spoke about her experience traveling from the Netherlands to San Francisco and her thoughts on studying abroad at SF State. “I felt normalcy that I didn’t feel in the Netherlands. We did have a severe lockdown, and for many months we never went to in-person classes,” said Burgués. As the Spring 2022 semester begins in-person, Jackson wants students to connect with the studying abroad experience. She hopes to see some of the pre-pandemic activities held by her department reinstated this semester. The studying abroad department’s activities will return this semester, such as the department’s student club. At 11 a.m. on Feb.18, they will hold a Zoom meeting for an event called “Being Black Abroad.” The department partnered with the Black Unity Center for Black History Month. On April 11 and 12, they will also be holding a study-abroad fair.
Barbra Burgues ( Esteban Renteria / Xpress Magazine )
Old Scars, New Ink Tattoos have long been used to cope with emotional scars, but what about covering physical ones? BY CAROLINE RAFFETTO
Owner of Gold Leaf Ink, Regina “Push” Estrada, tattoos her apprentice at her studio on Thursday, Feb.10, 2022 for Xpress Magazine. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)
Regina “Push” Estrada prepares to tattoo her apprentice after applying a stencil to her upper arm on Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)
Every time Crystal Poon goes to pick up their tattoo gun, they catch a glimpse of the tattoo on their outer wrist. Their client reciprocates their gaze, and they get into a conversation about what it is. This seemingly adorable tattoo has a much deeper, darker meaning that none of their clients expected, yet many resonated with. In 2018, Poon tattooed the cat-like Animal Crossing character, Blanca, on themself to cover their old selfharm scars. “He’s a little wonky, and it’s kind of goofy looking, but I still like it,” Poon explained. “It felt really good to be able to take that step forward and do it.” Poon was shocked at how much this small tattoo meant to their healing process. Not only did it cover their scars, which before had to be covered with long sleeve shirts, but it also gave them something to look forward to — a new start. In her experience, Regina “Push” Estrada, owner of Gold Leaf Ink, noticed that many tattoo shops do not offer scar cover-up tattoos—or do them reluctantly—in fear that it will dilute the quality of their work due to the fragility of the scar tissue. However, she believes that to the client, it is not always about having the best quality work, it is more about the meaning behind the artwork. “As a tattooer, we’re not wearing these pieces; we’re doing a service for somebody else,” said Estrada. “It’s
so much greater than just artwork; it’s the beginning of healing for that person.” Throughout her 10-year tattooing career, Estrada has worked at many Bay Area shops that frowned upon her willingness to tattoo over self-harm scars. “When my coworkers or the shop owner found out, they got really mad that I was offering that,” Estrada explained. “They’re like, ‘You know, this isn’t some charity. You’re basically lowering the value of our service.’ I heard it all, and it was really discouraging.” Estrada would also have to hide that she was offering these tattoos for free. Many clients who came to her looking to cover up their scars were in bad situations and unable to pay for the tattoo. Instead of turning them away, Estrada decided to aid them in their journey towards healing. The treatment she received from other artists drove her to open her own shop in 2018, Gold Leaf Ink on Market Street, where she would be able to make her own rules and help as many clients as she could take on. The tattoos people choose also help them cope with hardships and serve as a constant reminder of their strength through unbearable times. The tears streaming down their face after they see their finished piece tell a story not only of pain but also of rebirth. “It is art that I’m not even wearing and that I’m probably never even going to see again,” said Estrada.
Crystal Poon poses at Parallax Tattoo & Art Studio onFEB Friday,2022 Feb.11, 2022. (Garrett Isley / Xpress Magazine)
When my coworkers or the shop owner found out, they got really mad that I was offering that,” Estrada explained. “They’re like, ‘You know, this isn’t some charity. You’re basically lowering the value of our service.’ I heard it all, and it was really discouraging.
“But even just knowing that I did it and seeing it at that time, and then seeing their reactions in the mirror when they first see is just freakin’ priceless.” For Poon, at Parallax Tattoo & Art Studio in San Jose—who also offers self-harm cover-ups—tattoos not only serve as decoration and a form of self-expression, but they are also a tool for those who struggle with selfesteem issues. “A lot of people definitely struggle with self-esteem issues, so to be able to help them overcome them or even just like little distraction or just make themselves feel a little bit more at home in their bodies—it is such a rewarding experience,’’ Poon said. On October 14, 2018, Gabrielle Pariseau survived the unthinkable. She was raped. After the incident, she wanted to regain and reclaim her power by getting a tattoo of Medusa on her upper-right arm in June 2021. Medusa, one of the most well-known temptresses in Greek mythology, was once a beautiful mortal woman turned into a snake-haired monster by Athena. Many people, like Pariseau, believe that Medusa was actually raped by the sea god Poseidon in Athena’s sacred temple. “When I got this tattoo, ever since that moment, I have just felt more empowered,” Pariseau said. “It was in the way that I got to relate to her. [It was] that it helped me through it.” Not only did the story of Medusa inspire Pariseau, but it also empowered her to become her own protector. “It sounds cliche, but I’ve always had a dream where I wish that I could be her,” Pariseau exclaimed. “I wish with one look, I could look at people when they’re being rude or misogynistic, I just look at them with my eyes, and they get it, and they’d leave me alone.” For those who have lost a loved one, tattoos take the phrase “gone but always here” to a whole new level. The piercing pain of the needle hitting their skin 50 to 30,000 times per minute externalizes their grief and is a constant reminder of what they lost. Nate Keenan’s family was rocked when his uncle Patrick Keenan suddenly succumbed to his battle with
alcoholism on March 21, 2019. During their grieving process, Nate and his father Gregory Keenan decided to get tattoos to commemorate Patrick’s love of music. “His music was always something that brought us all a lot of joy, and some of our best memories together were around the guitar,” Nate said. Nate’s tattoo of a guitar pick that reads “bitchin” and his father’s tattoo of the late Patrick’s beloved guitar serve as a step towards acceptance and remembrance of Patrick. Every time they look down at their arms and see these commemorative art pieces, they feel the warmth and love they shared with Patrick. “He went almost 60 years of his life without getting a tattoo, so this was a very special moment for him to memorialize his brother,” Nate said when thinking about his father Gregory. “Both of us getting tattoos helped us process everything together and celebrate all the good in Pat.”
Carlos Ramirez, California Smile’s assistant manager, stands behind the counter with a sheet metal that should be full of magnet mementos in Fisherman’s Wharf on Feb. 13, 2022. ( Abraham Fuentes / Xpress Magazine)
FEB 2022 The inside of California Smiles gift shop at Fisherman’s Wharf. (Abraham Fuentes / Xpress Magazine)
BY JUSTINE BRADY In 2019, Fisherman’s Wharf was typically a crowded hotspot filled with tourists swinging around their newly purchased souvenir bags paired with a backdrop of lively street performers. Today, the roaring setting has significantly settled down, with only the barks of the sea lions and squawks of the seagulls echoing throughout the nearly barren street. “The last two years here have felt like a ghost town,” said Danilo Escoto, a sales associate at the Only in San Francisco gift shop. The store hugs the corner to the entrance of Pier 39, a prime location to ensnare tourists to stroll into. During the first few months of lockdown, Only in San Francisco was deemed a nonessential business and had to close their doors. Even though business picked up a little once they re-opened, Escoto said it’s nothing compared to how it used to be. Before the lockdown in March 2020, Fisherman’s Wharf was one of the most popular tourist destinations in San Francisco that lured in around 12 to 15 million people per year, according to the SF Travel Association. Recently, that number has dramatically diminished to just 2 million. And the tourist gift shops are suffering. For over 20 years, Ted Kim was accustomed to having his souvenir store, Grace Land Trading, filled with new customers daily. Don’t be fooled by the connection to Elvis Presley with the name; there’s no trace of the King of Rock and Roll in this store.
Instead, Grace Land Trading is filled with all the usual trinkets found in gift shops—from coffee cups with the Golden Gate Bridge to oversized sweaters with the San Francisco logo stamped on the front. On a typical February afternoon, the store was silent, with one to two people wandering in and out within the hour. The tourism industry generated around $819.7 million for San Francisco in 2019, breaking new records each year for 10 consecutive years, SF Travel reports. With each year doing better than the last, there were high hopes to continue this trend in 2020. However, just three months into the new year, all hopes of breaking that previous record in 2019 were shattered when the coronavirus hit hard, forcing shop closures all over the bay. In 2020, the San Francisco tourism industry only generated $273.4 million, down almost 67% from the previous year, according to SF Travel. Kim began to walk outside to the front of the store, overlooking a desolate Jefferson Street. He started pointing to the few people walking down the street, dialing in on their empty hands. “You see, no one has shopping bags anymore. Before, people were always walking down the streets with bags. Now there are none. It’s something I’m still not used to,” said Kim. Out front, a big ‘liquidation sale’ sign hangs in place of the name of his store. With rent prices continuing to rise, Kim said it’s been challenging to
FEB 2022 keep up with the little business he now experiences. “I don’t know if I am going to sell yet. With the way business is going, I’m starting to lean toward it. If I had to pay the same amount of rent I used to, I would not be in business; that’s for a fact,” said Kim. Because Kim’s Grace Land Trading store has continuously been a well-attracted business for 20 years, his landlord has yet to raise the price of rent. However, the pandemic has not stopped rent prices from going up for others. San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to rent, with RentCafe listing the average cost of over $3,000. With pressuring economies trying to get back to normal, some landlords have had to raise the rent on businesses. Due to this domino effect, small businesses have had to close down since they were making little revenue and could not keep up with the demands. There have been numerous store closures along Jefferson and Taylor Streets, the surrounding area of Pier 39. Loopnet, an
It’s just so quiet and empty. The store gets kind of busy during the weekend, but nowhere near the percentage we want to be. Rent is just getting to be so expensive.
those quiet weekdays became too much of a financial burden to maintain. The following week, the Corner Store changed its days of operation from Friday to Sunday only. “It was just becoming too much. The store as not doing enough business during the week to stay open,” said Jay Sewell, a manager at California Smiles, a gift shop sandwiched between neverending rows of “I Love SF’ shirts. “The owner said it was just wasting too much money. I mean, look around; you can see how the foot traffic is.” Both California Smiles and the Corner Store share the same owner. However, Sewell explained that due to the low foot traffic in the area, the owner decided to keep only one of his stores open seven days a week. Another factor that may make tourists aprehensive about returning to San Francisco’s tourist attractions is the alarming increase in crimes. NBC Bay Area’s Investigative Unit reported that in 2021, there were an average of 74 car break-ins per day. SFPD’s crime dashboard reported record high cases of larceny thefts in 2021, with over 31,000 reports. “I believe that crime plays a part because when people from out of town hear about all the broken car windows, it makes them not want to come over here,” said Kim.
(Abraham Fuentes / Xpress Magazine)
online marketplace for commercial properties, lists about 10 available retail spaces for rent around the wharf. Now, when walking down the street, Fisherman’s Wharf is riddled with empty storefronts. The last two years have been challenging for Yoli Ramirez, who has managed the little Corner Store souvenir shop located off Jefferson and Jones Streets, especially during the weekdays. Before the start of the pandemic, sunny weekday afternoons along the wharf were ideal for flocking tourists to sweep through the store’s grand inventory of clothing displayed upfront. “It’s just so quiet and empty. The store gets kind of busy during the weekend, but nowhere near the percentage we want to be. Rent is just getting to be so expensive,” said Ramirez. Even the store’s peak hours on the weeken were not enough to continue running the business seven days a week. With only seeing a handful of customers a day,
Jay Sewell makes a custom T-shirt with the heat press at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf on Feb. 13, 2022. (Abraham Fuentes / Xpress Magazine)
K’Zhane McGill does schoolwork on her iPad at her desk, Feb 7. 2022, in 22 San Francisco California (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)
Crucial SF State mental health services struggle to meet demand BY OLIVER MICHELSEN 23
Third year K’Zhane McGill poses for a portrait in her workspace, Feb 7. 2022, San Francisco California (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)
XPRESS MAGAZINE It was another cold San Francisco afternoon in February as Lizzie sat on the bench outside SF State’s student services building. It wasn’t until about half an hour before closing that she mustered up the courage to open up the glass doors and go inside. She was there to get help from the campus’ the SAFE Place, a free and confidential program started to support and serve survivors of sexual assault. Lizzie was attending SF State in the Spring of 2020 when she processed the fact that she had been sexually assaulted prior to her time on campus. Lizzie requested her privacy as a survivor of sexual assault be protected under the guise of a pseudonym but recalled the events that led to her going to the student services building that day. She first turned to her roommate, who was studying to be a social worker at the time, for help. She suggested that Lizzie seek assistance from the school’s the SAFE Place on Wednesday of that week. She would put off going until Friday afternoon. When she did, staff had her wait for a short period before they asked what she had come in for. When she explained that she wanted to speak with someone from the SAFE Place, she was informed that the head was out dealing with another case at the time. “They literally had to [ask], ‘How urgent is it?’” Lizzie said. “They literally asked me that. So that gives a bit of a sign. And I said, ‘It can wait, it’s not urgent.’” But Lizzie was feeling suicidal at the time. Despite what she told them, something about her demeanor led staff to believe otherwise and tracked down a counselor for her immediately. Lizzie said SAFE Place staff sat with her for about two hours after closing that afternoon to ensure she had someone waiting for her at home. “I was in a very low place,” she recounted. “I’ve never attempted suicide, and part of the reason is that I’ve had people there at those critical moments that could be there for me… That time, it was SF State.” Lizzie participated in therapy twice a week to keep herself out of the hospital, she explained, until counseling services were able to reconnect her with her old therapist. The SAFE Place, though, is just one of the few mental health services available to students on campus. According to the school’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) webpage, others include the SF State psychology training clinic, student health services and various telehealth counseling services. In spite of the seemingly abundant amount of mental health resources, some feel the school is struggling to address its student’s mental health adequately. Emmy Murphy, a 20-year-old psychology major
I’ve never attempted suicide, and part of the reason is that I’ve had people there at those critical moments that could be there for me… That time, it was SF State.
at SF State, recalled encountering some hurdles when getting help from the school’s mental health services. She had been seeing the same therapist for her anxiety and depression since she was 15 when she reached out to student counseling in Spring 2021. Murphy had been a competitive swimmer for almost ten years prior to coming to SF State. When she quit, she said, it was hard to maintain consistent and healthy eating habits due to the drastic change in the amount of physical activity. When she reached out to counseling services, Murphy sought help for her eating disorder while she was left unable to see her usual therapist. “My therapist that I’ve had for five years knows me through and through. She literally has seen me at my absolute worst,” she explained. “So for me to have to go to someone else was honestly really, really challenging.” Murphy recalled breaking down and crying in one session with a therapist from the school after specifically requesting someone with experience treating eating disorders and being told the person she was currently meeting with had none. Additionally, she explained, twoweek wait times in between sessions made it even harder to address her issues. K’Zhane McGill, another third-year student at SF State, struggles with anxiety and depression. After reaching a tipping point with her mental health, she decided to seek help in Fall 2021. However, she said that despite calling and being put on hold with the counseling and psychological services multiple times, she couldn’t get an appointment. “They weren’t answering my calls,” McGill explained. “I was very frustrated and upset… I felt very helpless.” She said that this negative experience caused her to give up on the school’s services entirely. In Fall 2020, the Healthy Minds Network surveyed
approximately 33,000 university students. Thirtynine percent of the surveyed students responded affirmatively to struggling with depression in the past year, but only 40% of that population reported receiving mental health counseling. “If I spiral, I’m just going to go to my friends from now [on],” McGill said with a laugh. This is not an uncommon response. Like McGill, 40% of those surveyed reported resorting to informal forms of help-seeking, such as going to friends and other loved ones for help rather than official mental health services. David Gard, Ph.D., is an SF State psychology professor and has been the head of the campus’ psychology training clinic for the past 10 years. He believes that hurdles to getting access to mental health counseling can be attributed to societal perceptions of mental health issues and lack of funding. “I think we are heavily underfunding mental health services. Meaning, I think that people are not quite understanding or grasping how expensive it is to actually just provide mental health care for people. Because it isn’t something where you can just give people a drug, and they’re going to be okay,” he said. He posits that a therapist such as himself doing six one-hour sessions a day, five days a week, would still only be able to see about 30 clients at a time. These issues are not necessarily unique to SF State. According to the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, while all 23 CSU campuses provide some form of student mental health services, they maintain a ratio of 1,958 students for every counselor. That’s 30% higher than the International Accreditation of Counseling Services recommended maximum ratio of 1500 students per counselor. Lizzie recalled seeing others in the office
XPRESS MAGAZINE getting turned away for what she perceived to be nonemergency issues during her time receiving therapy through CAPS and the SAFE Place. “The impression I got from sitting there was that if it’s not an emergency, it’s not so great. They have to kind of prioritize cases,” she explained. Gard said that while the pandemic and its implications haven’t been ideal conditions for addressing systemic mental health service problems, this and similar issues existed prior to the shutdown in March 2020. “The reality of the situation is, even before the pandemic, there weren’t enough places to get mental health treatment,” he explained. “And now it’s the same amount of services available, or maybe a little bit more, but not enough to cover the demand.” Gard also noted that while the psychology training clinic and CAPS do occasionally refer overflow patients to one another, they generally have different goals with the care they provide. Services at the clinic are primarily provided by postgraduate students and are open to both the student body as well as the surrounding community. And aside from being closed from June to August, the clinic has no cap on appointments or predetermined treatment timelines, according to their website. Inversely, the CAPS FAQ webpage explains that they provide counseling for concerns that can be addressed with a “brief therapy model,” noting that in situations where more extended or comprehensive care is required, their main priority becomes referring the student to a “more appropriate level of care.” Murphy, who said she only saw counselors at CAPS twice before switching approaches, ended up getting help from the psychiatric unit at student health services. However, she noted that even then, the only reason she was able to get in contact with a school psychiatrist was due to her off-campus therapist, not CAPS staff. Despite struggles with accessibility, SF State mental health services remain an essential resource for students in crisis, like Lizzie. Two years later, she is in a much different place than that February afternoon. “I’m doing great… I have a healthy, happy relationship. I have friends; I have family; I am in school, passing my classes,” she explained proudly. “What happened shouldn’t have happened. And I want to break down crying every time I think about it, but it’s not stopping me.”
Emmy Murphy puts on her makeup in her Emmy Murphy on heron makeup her bedroom in San Francisco on bedroom in Sanputs Francisco Feb. 14,in2022. Emmy Murphy puts onRamirez her makeup in her bedroom in San Francisco on Feb. 14, 2022. (Rene / Xpress Magazine) (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine) Feb. 14, 2022. (Rene Ramirez / Xpress Magazine)
(Paris Galarza, Selena Zhao / Xpress Magazine)
The financial and emotional toll of
yet another cancelled
graduation BY ANNE KRISTOFF
Paul Padilla’s family cheered as he told them the news that they were finally going to see him walk in his college graduation. “It was a crazy accomplishment,” Padilla said. “We bought all our flights. We had everything ready to fly out there.” The long-awaited event was brought to a crashing halt as his in-person graduation was postponed yet again just nine days before the scheduled ceremony. Disappointment related to graduation ceremonies was not a new feeling for SF State’s 2020 graduating class. From being placed online during the final leg of their undergrad careers to having their names zoom by like movie credits during their online graduation to suffering major financial and mental blows due to their in-person graduation ceremony being canceled time and time again. The story of graduation has not been easy for these alumni. Padilla, a family business owner of The Search Bar in San Diego, recalled his virtual ceremony in 2021 as a rushed event and was not surprised to hear about the postponement of the January 8, 2022, in-person graduation ceremony. “It was devastating. I was really excited cause that was my accolade. I don’t care that I took forever to graduate. I still did it,” Padilla said about
the announcement. “Going through all that work and not able to have a graduation to show for it, it really had me pissed off. Like I didn’t even feel like I went to college.” Padilla and his family were offered full refunds on graduation tickets from the university, but the over $600 in additional costs for hotel rooms and accommodations were nonrefundable. Padilla had been flying back and forth from San Francisco to San Diego every Thursday to take care of his business while getting an education from SF State. “It doesn’t matter how you start. It’s how you finish. If I was 40 years old, I still want to walk. If I was 50 years old, I still want to walk because the fact of walking across the stage, looking at my family, cheering me on and just shaking a hand and receiving a diploma in your hand like that. That’s something you’re not going to ever forget,” he said. SF State posted the official announcement on its Instagram on December 30, 2021. “I understand their hands are tied. I understand that completely, and I won’t blame them for that, but I feel like they could do something to make up for it because we spent a lot. We spent a lot of money on living out there. We spent a lot of money on attending that school,” Padilla said.
Bobby King, the director of communications for the president’s office, provided a statement from SF State President Lynn Mahoney’s about the Jan. 8 commencement, which stated, “As with all such decisions, the health and safety of our community, in this case — graduates, families, guests, staff and volunteers — was our primary concern. Given the timing of the projected peak of new COVID cases in the state and region, we believe it was the right decision. I do recognize the difficulties, pain and hardship this decision has caused for many.” Mahoney also mentioned that the school refunded all the money for guest tickets and that rented regalia may be held onto for the rescheduled ceremony, which will take place on May 26, 2022 at Oracle Park, according to SF State’s Instagram post. Additionally, participants who did not wish to participate in the future event may return unused regalia for a “refund, less the shipping charges.” Mahoney continued, “I hope that all who planned to participate will be able to return for the rescheduled event, and we’re doing everything we can to make that possible. They deserve to celebrate their accomplishments – especially given the many
obstacles that they have faced over the past two years.” According to the California State University website, many CSUs had in-person celebrations for their 2020 and 2021 graduates. CSUs San Marcos, Maritime Academy, and Chico held in-person ceremonies, whereas schools like Cal Poly and Sacramento State held drive-through “car-mencement ceremonies.” “I wish they would have asked us if we even wanted to do this in the winter,” Carolina Manzo said. An SF State alumna, Manzo was among those that had extensive travel expenses due to the in-person graduation. “The other thing I didn’t understand is why did they pick a venue that was indoors during travel season for all the holidays when everyone gets sick in the winter. Whether it’s COVID or not, everybody gets sick.” She and her nine-plus family members had changed or extended their original travel plans from Hawaii, San Diego, and Washington, D.C. to make it to her graduation in San Francisco as well as take scheduled paid-time-off days that they could not get back. Manzo, alone, had spent an extra $200 to change her flights and about $60 on tickets for the ceremony. Being the first in her family to graduate from a
Genesis Morales, an SF State alumna, stands in front of the Chase Center where the 2021 graduation ceremony was scheduled to be held. (Paris Galarza, Selena Zhao / Xpress Magazine)
It was devastating. I was really excited ‘cause that was my accolade. I don’t care that I took forever to graduate, I still did it. postsecondary school, having an in-person ceremony meant a great deal. “Them seeing me cross the stage means a lot for them as well as it does for me. So, I can’t not do it. I just wish they gave us more notice,” Manzo said. Many students in the 2020 class were left feeling distraught and frustrated with another push to their in-person graduation. Genesis Morales, an SF State alumna, was among those who were “disappointed but not surprised” by the news. “It kind of feels like a slap in the face, like to me, to my brother too, my parents who sacrifice a lot and who, realistically, the graduation was more for them than for me,” Morales said. “I just feel embarrassed having to tell them yet again, ‘Hey, my graduation’s
canceled. I’m so sorry. Cancel your tickets.’ Because it feels like it’s my fault.” Morales had spent money on graduation-related things like the tickets and her cap and gown. Her family and her mentors had spent over $600 on travel accommodations for the ceremony. Most of which was non-refundable. “To do it so last minute makes me just feel like their students weren’t a priority,” said Morales, who felt disrespected by a university she had fallen in love with. “I had some of the best professors that I’ve ever had and ever encountered at SF State, that I still talk to now, but I think the university as an institution has failed students.”