UC Berkeley student groups have been pushing demands for nearly 30 days for administration to relocate the school’s multicultural center to new facilities. But down in Westwood, this kind of center doesn’t even exist for UCLA.
The bridges Multicultural Resource Center was formed to provide resources to underrepresented students of color after Proposition 209 banned affirmative action in 1996.
Both UC Berkeley’s Multicultural Resource Center and Queer Alliance Resource Center protested lack of larger, more visible and more accessible facilities throughout October. The organizations are currently tucked away in the basement of Cal’s Eshleman Hall, where students have said it’s difficult for others to find their events and have reported seeing rats in the office.
With the highest enrollment of all California universities, UCLA remains one of four University of California campuses that does not have an intentional, physical space set aside for communities of color to come together. From the ban on affirmative action in the ’90s until today, students from these campuses have demanded multicultural student centers to some extent.
UCLA student organizations need to acknowledge and support these demands, especially Berkeley’s current fight. Development of a multicultural center on one UC campus sets precedent for other campuses, ultimately paving the way for UCLA to demand and build its own center.
Multicultural student centers are necessary to support communities of color that have faced barriers to access across every aspect of the university experience, from their acceptance letters to their diplomas. With affirmative action banned in California, it’s even more difficult for the university to intentionally reach out to these communities for their institutional needs. And as it stands, the different cultural organizations on campus reside in disparate spaces, insulated with distinct agendas and even tension at times between one another.
To develop the center, these organizations need to collaborate with larger institutions on campus to address the primary concerns of space, funding, programming, leadership and staffing infrastructure.
The center would facilitate organizing collaborative programming like socials, where groups often need venues, or fundraising efforts. The space would serve as a place for student organizations to quickly meet up and organize in the wake of on-campus events that target certain groups. Bruin Republicans, for example, has held deliberately inflammatory events, with its leadership supporting hateful speech that alienates undocumented students and invalidating both black and transgender students’ experiences. In these instances, students would be able to meet in a central place and plan their protests, campaigns, statements and other plans of action immediately.
Anzor Komok, a third-year political science and history student and resident advisor, imagines a centralized, physical place that fosters intercommunity work, dialogue and inclusivity with regards to students’ other marginalized identities. Komok explained, “No one experiences life through just one of their social identities; it’s important to recognize that members may not have the opportunity to engage with folks from each one of their identities.”
In the past, some LGBTQ members facing homophobia in their cultural organizations and other campus institutions have felt the need to break off and create their own spaces. Project 1, UCLA’s mentorship program for LGBTQ students in LA high schools, withdrew from the Community Programs Office in 2013, citing that it did not feel the office was safe for queer students.
It starts with basic awareness – Bruins learning how Berkeley’s centers serve their communities and seeing what they’re currently demanding and why. UCLA groups can issue official statements of support through social media. Any attention that Bruins invest into Cal’s issues will not only add leverage to Berkeley’s movement, but also begin dialogue on UCLA’s campus surrounding its own space.
The next step is for these campuses without centers to present viable planning that holds administration accountable in creating these multicultural spaces. At UCLA, this would involve a cohort of students from the leadership of cultural groups, student government and Queer Alliance. Additionally, administrative support and funding would be necessary from different vice chancellor offices. UC Davis’ center is exemplar, equipped with full-time staff and daily programming.
In the realm of student government, collaboration and co-programming between student groups in a single space can allow them to bring collective platforms to the Undergraduate Students Association Council. To bring one platform and set of demands to USAC allows these organizations a more efficient and feasible way to advance their goals. This unity also develops leaders who can then ultimately see themselves and their communities represented in student government.
Tension has historically existed between different UCLA cultural groups, creating not only a sentiment of distrust, but also a situation where groups don’t engage one another, according to Zoya Chhabra.
Chhabra, a fourth-year political science student, General Representative 3 chief of staff and former president of Indus at UCLA, said that the campus community can be very divided, which becomes especially salient during USAC elections. She added, “Individual student communities can be echo chambers where you’re constantly surrounded by people who agree with you, and that can be unhealthy.” Chhabra is currently researching how a cross-cultural center could be implemented at UCLA under the BEST Grant Program from the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
Many campus cultural groups are designated different rooms housed in Kerckhoff Hall for storage and activities. CPO also deals directly with marginalized communities on campus in its retention and community outreach programs, among other student services. But this arrangement currently leaves cultural organizations in a fragmented, niche-oriented space without true integration, which isn’t ideal for community organizing, event collaboration or meeting assembly.
Mick Deluca, assistant vice chancellor of campus life, said, “We have a strong working relationship with our student groups and work together with them to better address interests, needs and issues.” Since students will invariably face obstacles in forging this space, there will be a need for this administrative support. And all groups themselves must demand this space, as it will be for all of us.
To establish a center isn’t to detract from each group having their own specific agendas, or to forsake recognizing the unique issues they face. It’s a way of pooling resources, fomenting collective goals and getting students into direct contact with one another, supported by a unified space. And for now, while we stand in solidarity with UC Berkeley’s communities of color as they demand their own agency, UCLA’s students should also take note of how to organize a unity that is sorely lacking among our independently vibrant and powerful student groups.