By Otto Pippenger
Some 50 students, friends and family members gathered at San Francisco State University’s (SFSU) Richard Oakes Multicultural Center for the belated memorial service of SFSU student and former City College student Gabriela Sanchez, 23, of Los Palos, Ca.
The memorial was on Nov. 3, 2107, more than three months after her fatal car accident in Los Baños, Ca. while driving to her job at Starbucks on July 18.
SFSU’s policy when a student dies is to write a letter of condolence, issue a university department notification, make counseling available for the aggrieved students, hold a vigil on campus and issue an honorary certificate- all of which were delayed in Sanchez’s case.
Friend to Sanchez, Mia Johnson-Antonia said, “I still haven’t been offered any counseling but at least they’re going through with the process.”
Her mother, four younger siblings and numerous friends wept where they sat in a dim room predominated by an altar with her portrait. An honorary Bachelor’s Degree in Broadcasting and Electronic Arts, her urn was placed near projected pictures from the young woman’s life.
Mourners sat amongst paper flowers, the classic D.C. comics that she loved and small ceramic butterflies where messages could be written.
After a poetry reading, dance and moment of silence, people gathered and took turns sharing memories of an exceptional life that was cut cruelly short.
Despite the time that had passed, many who spoke still expressed shock and disbelief as they recounted Sanchez’s life. She was recently appointed publicist of the San Francisco State Comic Book Club and was looking forward to the release of her first comic. She was also engaged in activism as a person subject to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). She had even been accepted to work as a volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival.
The event was organized with help from Interim Assistant Vice President for Equity & Community Inclusion, Manuel Alejandro Pérez, with the assistance of Sanchez’s close friend, Gardenia Zuniga.
As a City College journalism student, Zuniga helped initiate the campaign and published an open letter criticizing the school’s conduct in San Francisco’s Spanish language newspaper El Tecolote in August.
“When I arrived there were steps that had not been taken,” Perez said. “We saw an opportunity to intervene and help. This is absolutely not the norm. It was an oversight. It was a mistake and an accident but the institution has corrected it. It brings me happiness to see the family more fully redressed with peace of mind.”
Johnson-Antonia said, “Gardenia shouldn’t have had to embarrass the school for the standard process to happen.”
Zuniga addresses most of the blame for the negligence to SFSU on Dean of Students Dr. Mary Ann Beagley. Though Zuniga said she contacted the school immediately after Sanchez’s death, Beagley allegedly responded only after the open letter was published.
“The next day she left me a voicemail saying ‘Hi, this is Dr. Beagley, I’m sorry about your friend. I’m no longer busy so call me back and we can get this over with’,” Zuniga said.
“That lit a fire in me to make sure we did this right,” Zuniga said. “I called Gaby’s mother and contacted NORMA, the school DACA ambassador who helped me get in touch with Manuel Perez, who was very apologetic. Once he started his job on Sep. 9 he helped us get this done. He picked up Dr. Beagley’s slack.”
According to Zuniga, some six other loved ones of deceased SFSU students have contacted her with complaints of similar treatment.
For Zuniga and the family there is still more to be done. Zuniga is currently attempting to show Sanchez’s death certificate to Google in order to gain access to Sanchez’s account where her videos, art and poetry are stored. The family hopes to publish in the near future and Sanchez’s family is pursuing legal action against the driver who killed their daughter.