Gumwood Tree Sitters Organize Sit In, Protest New Safety Gate

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Protesting on Campus
An angry student yells from the branches of the prized Gumwood tree outside of the Library to bring attention to the plans to cut the tree down. (Melissa Stihl | Foghorn)

Following a spike in broken gates over the alcohol-fueled revelry of spring break, Public Safety and Facilities Management have teamed up to decide how to replace the gates and how to also send a message about the importance of the safety barrier that vanishes without fail over weekends and holidays. Dan Lawson, director of Public Safety, said, “After many talks between the facilities team and myself, we have chosen to cut down the St. Helena gumwood in front of Gleeson Library to replace the gates.”

The St. Helena gumwood is on the endangered tree list. In addition, the tree that Lawson referred to has provided shade to students who forget to put on sunscreen for over 50 years. Alumna Sarah Pickle said, “It might sound ridiculous, but I credit that gumwood for protecting my skin from the scorching San Francisco sun.” Pickle went on to say that as a naïve undergraduate from Minnesota, she had no idea how strong the sun’s rays could be. When confronted with research and information about skin cancer in the late 1990s, Pickle started a tradition of visiting the gumwood after perusing new exhibits at the Thacher Gallery in Gleeson Library.

Current students also have strong feelings about the gumwood slated to be the next gate. A tearful senior, Jim

Dander, said “I can’t believe Public Safety is resorting to this. To think that this historic gumwood will be painted black and white like a common prisoner is just sad.”
In defense of the decision to cut down the St. Helena gumwood, Paul Flaun, director of Facilities Management, said, “This decision was not easy to make, but we had no other choice. With this economy, the cost of wood has more than tripled. We have been forced to look at our own resources to replace the gate.”

The cost of a simple black and white wooden gate has risen from $300 to $1,050. With large lumber companies like We Wood, You Should and Sap It To You cutting their staff and decreasing their transportation services, Public Safety and Facilities Management claim they have no other option but to begin sawing the gumwood on Friday. Flaun said, “I understand why students are upset, but they should take it up with the hoodlums that break the gate every weekend.”

Dander and his friend junior Jill Maraschino are frustrated with these “hoodlums” as well. They have turned their frustration into an ASUSF-sponsored club. The club, Gumwood Tree Sitters, has taken a cue from neighboring university UC Berkeley, and adopted a sit-in (or up) approach in protest of the cost cutting measures to replace the safety gate. Maraschino explained, “We can’t sit by while this incredible piece of nature and USF history is mercilessly hacked and sawed away. Our presence at the tree cutting on Friday will prevent them from destroying it.”

Dander said that the four Gumwood Tree Sitters will occupy the tree round the clock from Thursday night until Saturday morning to ensure that Public Safety doesn’t jeopardize USF’s historic natural monument. Dander added “I’d like to see if Public Safety would compromise our safety to save a few bucks.” Dander and Maraschino plan to position themselves in the middle branches of the St. Helena gumwood and remain there until Public Safety and Facilities back down. Freshman Cherub Wallace, a Gumwood Tree Sitters member, said “It should be quite the showdown. Hopefully no bark will be shed in the process.”

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