Letters From OC Weekly Readers

As a current third-year student, I was appalled upon reading this article and the fallacious accusations it contained [Michelle Woo's "The School On a Hill," March 11].
Upon arriving at Soka University of America, I had no prior knowledge regarding Soka Gakkai International (SGI) practices or beliefs. Three years later, I have only the minimal understanding of the organization.

In the time I have been a student here, I have never felt pressured to attend any type of SGI-related activity. Although it is common knowledge that a percentage of Soka personnel are practicing members of the SGI, not once has it been brought up in discussion, whether in the classroom or otherwise. It is true that photographs of and by Daisaku Ikeda and some of his writings can be found on display in various parts of the university; the fact of the matter is he is the founder of this institution, and just like any other university, we hold a sense of respect and pride in him. If it were not for his dedication and desire to create an institution to foster wholesome human beings, this university would not be in existence today.

Like with any other religion, there are individuals who feel passionately about it and do try to share their ideas and beliefs with others. However, the environment at Soka has always been one of familiarity and comfort, and simply declining offers to attend SGI events or discussions will more than suffice. I practice Christianity and feel as though I can freely discuss my beliefs with other students without being judged in any way.


Letters may be edited for clarity and length. E-mail to letters@ocweekly.com, or mail to Letters to the Editor, c/o OC Weekly, 2975 Red Hill Ave., Ste. 150, Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Or fax to (714) 550-5908.

Reading this article saddened me because I take so much pride in being a student of this institution. The knowledge I have gained here through the years and the growth I have undergone have made me into someone that I love and admire. Seeing the way in which the place I love so much was portrayed due to ignorance and lack of research offends me deeply. I only hope actions will be taken to repair the potential damage this article may cause.

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Veronica Ortega, via e-mail


At my sworn deposition in the Gaye Christoffersen case, I was confronted with the charge of wanting to get rid of non-Gakkai faculty so that only Gakkai faculty would remain. It seems Dr. Christoffersen was convinced I was a Gakkai member, a fact that, if true, would still give her fabrication only a problematic degree of plausibility. After denying the charge and confirming I was not a Gakkai member, Christoffersen's lawyer suspended the deposition, knowing it was pointless to continue with their planned series of questions. After the break, their new series of questions was about whether I was discriminated against because I was not a Gakkai member. I have never been discriminated against for not being a Gakkai member, but I have instead thrived personally and professionally at a place that is and with people who are dear to me.

The Christoffersen case was dismissed so quickly for lack of merit that I did not need to take the next legal step, which was to sign my deposition transcript. In November 2010, Judge [Donald] Miles of the State Bar Court agreed with the State Bar that "disbarment of Respondent [Christoffersen's lawyer] is called for . . . and . . . is necessary to protect both the public and the profession." The disbarment recommendation was mainly for "moral turpitude, misappropriation" and "moral turpitude, misrepresentation" in cases unrelated to the article. The same lawyer, though, was involved in other cases mentioned in the article.

It is standard that campus administrators are restricted from commenting on personnel matters; however, this is not true of others on campus, and those others are beginning to also fill in missing pieces (concerning Orin Kirshner, for example) with their online postings and wishing they had been contacted, too.

Phat Vu, Associate Professor of Physics, Soka University of America, via e-mail


I would agree with some arguments in this article, if they were properly discussed. Unfortunately, much of this seems to be a work of literature, rather than anything supported by evidence. Some of this article did demonstrate an impartial tone, with the discussions of those who say religious diversity is accepted at the school. I can appreciate that because I am sure many other writers who criticize Soka University wouldn't consider mentioning this part.

The fact is, this article exaggerates truth. There are many professors who are in SGI; that is the truth. Gaye Christoffersen's statements could be truths—it could be true the non-SGI professors are there to give the school credibility. It's funny how this works out because I would agree with one of the commenters that Christoffersen was not a great professor. But she definitely had what it takes—she is probably what you would expect out of a professor in the real world. Experts do not always make good teachers. Maybe these credible professors just cannot fit into the values of this school because its values are much more humanistic than those of other schools. Another truth: Most likely, this population of SGI professors does make non-SGI professors uncomfortable. It would be more surprising if they weren't uncomfortable because of how SGI members portray themselves. Their faith is a strong, prideful faith.

I have attended a class in which a professor used the words of Ikeda to give us ideas. I am not saying there is anything wrong with this, but it is confusing when no other school would use his teachings in a lesson. The fact is people honor Ikeda at this school and are expected to make efforts to show appreciation for him. They are not required to, but it is definitely an expectation that is created by the student population. This most likely will change as more and more non-SGI students are accepted to the school. As for the SGI professors, I can only hope they have not put their fellow professors through the same trouble.

Student, via ocweekly.com


As an atheist student at Soka University of America who has had no affiliation with SGI, let me just say that I felt more religious discrimination in one day of public high school than I have ever felt here. I would go so far as to say that I have not felt any and that this article is only trying to draw readership for its advertisements by sensationalizing private legal issues. I guess if that were the goal, mission accomplished.

Nate Maynard, via ocweekly.com


This is purely shock journalism. Ms. Woo will regard her work as tantalizing. Advocates of the SGI will consider this article petty. The side of the victim in this article—which is directly slanted in support of—is extremely happy, as if she has won a great victory. Seek your truth.

Silverbackninja, via ocweekly.com


Great article, horrible cover art.

Drewrx, via ocweekly.com


Whatever issues are flaring at Soka University, your choice of cover is pretty damn offensive. The fact that the writer is Asian doesn't dampen its childishly racist overtones. Maybe next you can run an article about the Japanese tsunami with a cover depicting scores of "Buddhaheads" being swept away by the flood.

Lostinanart, via ocweekly.com


I'm appalled at reading this article and the ridiculous cartoon! As a reporter, please do thorough research. It is creating a false image of an incredible school and its community.

Anonymous, via ocweekly.com


Editor Ted B. Kissell responds: On the topic of the cover art, I could sit here and try to explain what we were getting at, metaphorically, with the cartoony illustration of the looming Buddha-like figure and the smaller people in his hands, but you know what they say about having to explain a joke. And I don't think anyone is upset about the cover because they didn't "get" it.

In recent days, I've talked to several intelligent people of good conscience who didn't see the image as ethnically insensitive. I've talked to just as many intelligent people of good conscience—and with no ties to SGI or Soka—who told me the image was goofy, fucked-up or both.

I'm writing this note to let you know that if you think the illustration crosses the line from irreverent and ironic into a flat-out racist caricature of an Asian person, then you should direct all of your ire against the person who's really responsible for it: me.

As the editor of this paper, I wouldn't have let it go out the door if I'd thought it crossed that line. Around here, we like to offend people on purpose, not by accident—and always in the service of some larger satirical goal. The cover should offer a powerful visual statement that both distills and amplifies the essence of the story, not become a distraction from it.

If you think the cover showed crap judgment, then the crap judgment in question was mine and no one else's. Please let me know your thoughts directly at tkissell@ocweekly.com.


In Michelle Woo's March 11 cover story, "The School On a Hill," a court document was quoted that referred to Hare Krishna as "an alternative Buddhist sect." The Hare Krishna movement is, in fact, a Hindu group.


In Alexis Hodoyan-Gastelum's March 4 Locals Only story, "Think Ink," Kat Von D was mistakenly identified as being involved with the MusInk festival. Von D hosted the event in 2008. The Weekly regrets the error.

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