Saturday, February 16

Arman Sharif: UCLA must be in solidarity with Cal, demand own multicultural center

(Creative Commons photo by Introvert via Wikimedia)

(Creative Commons photo by Introvert via Wikimedia)

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.

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  • Loner Stoner

    What has their multicultural center accomplished? They protested for better facilities by building a wall and obstructing white people on campus from crossing a bridge. What they do sounds like CPO with more divisive undertones. I just don’t know what greater goal this center at UCLA would achieve.

    • Drew

      Multi- and Cross-cultural centers do not attempt to build walls obstructing white people on campus from crossing a bridge. Communities of color and other historically oppressed communities continue to be obstructed to cross various bridges in society today…higher-education and job opportunities just to name a few. The point of these cultural centers is to integrate spaces for people of color from all walks of life to empower their communities and explore their identity. The k-12 public education system has explored the white identity giving little to no room for empowerment of people of color. Cultural spaces allow people to take their own path in understanding their identity and giving back to the communities that they come from. In no way does it intend to threaten white communities or cause trouble.

      • Loner Stoner

        About the bridge, I’m specifically referring to the incident that occurred at Berkeley. Students of color there were protesting better facilities for their multi-cultural center.

        Yes, and there are cultural spaces already that this empowerment occurs. I think cultural groups at UCLA are alive and well, and are provided with adequate resources at least in terms of funding and physical spaces. CPO provides resources for underprivileged students w/ retention etc. IGR at UCLA brings members of the UCLA community to discuss diversity and campus climate. I didn’t need complete the diversity requirement, but hopefully that’s lead to some important dialogue. I’m not skeptical of cross-cultural centers per se, but that cultural communities want or need this physical integrated space here at UCLA. Collaboration between communities is great, especially when it happens organically for mutual and specific causes. It’ll be a product of the diversity and plurality of our school. More importantly, it’s productive. I completely get empowering oppressed communities, but don’t see how a multi-cultural center would help anyone or the climate here at UCLA. Sounds more like responding to oppression, by uniting against the enemy (white people) demanding retribution in the form of building a white-free headquarters on campus. That doesn’t sound productive. You create change in the mind of others by invading their spaces. I’d prefer leaders of color to dominate in their respective fields than circle jerking in the multi-cultural center.

  • Horchata

    I always thought America was a melting pot. Why do we need a multicultural center? Just live your life and share your culture with receptive people. No need to build walls through an institution.

    • Bellamy LaPierre

      The melting pot looks great on paper, but in actuality it is still a work in progress. Minorities often feel like that new vegetable that no one wants to try. What Multicultural centres do is they acknowledge the different needs and struggles minorities face in higher education, provide support, and connect them to resources. They say, “Look, we know the statistics, we understand, but look at all these other people just like you. You’re not alone. Learn from them, connect with them, allow yourself to realise your strength as the new vegetable!” Centres like these gives minorities and communities of colour more confidence to then go out and assert themselves in that wonderful pot.

      • Drew

        The term “melting pot” is unfortunately out-dated. Melting pot was used to describe how cultures blended with one another to create what we know as America. History, scholars, activists, and professors have realized that America is not a melting pot, but rather a patch-work quilt. Our cultures do not blend and should not homogenize into one American identity. Instead, it would be included into the quilt we call America. Each culture stands unique on its own as it connects to other cultures. The culture is able to flourish and empower communities without the homogenizing systems of our society. Multi- and cross-cultural centers ignites these conversations on how these quilts are shared with the world. They are needed. They in no way segregate or keep whites away. The centers empower communities that have been long overdue of empowerment and resources and access to things they have been historically denied. It’s more than just confidence that these centers build, but it’s also to move forward while being conscious of the histories of America and considering the Native land we are standing on.

    • Drew

      No walls are being built. America is not a melting pot. Our cultures do not melt but rather intertwine with one another. Call it a quilt even. If we all lived our lives by default and had the opportunity to share our culture, then why do certain cultures get more funding or attention? For example: white culture. I’m not saying that white culture is a bad thing. I am saying that other cultures have been historically denied the opportunity to express their culture, whether it is through art, collaboration, media, etc. But these centers are meant to integrate cultures with experiences with oppression and empower their communities. What other components of our institution is going to listen to these communities and help them fund their programs or help them give back to their communities? There is a history that is repeating itself and these cultural centers help us make a conscious effort in moving forward.

  • Jay Cha

    How can UCLA pursue everything Berkeley does regardless of the right or wrong? The 30 day protest is absurd. Berkeley colored students demand segregation for the sake of eliminating alleged segregation. Such paradox can not be possibly endorsed elsewhere but Berkeley, a place full of idealists of their own. Multicultural center is not even a thing in most universities. I doubt if it is a positive move for UCLA to eagerly pursue whatever its big brother is doing.

    • robman012


      • Jay Cha

        And that word is no different from people of color. I don’t know why people are so sensitive over colored and completely fine with people of color. Is colored more offensive than “of color”?

    • Drew

      The term segregation was historically used to make Black lives seen as second-class citizens. In no way are multi- or cross-cultural centers intending to oppress white communities. The purpose of a multi- and cross-cultural space is to empower communities that have had a history of being denied access to certain opportunities.

      • Jay Cha

        Insofar as I am informed, the protest stops white professors and students at the gate but allows students and professors of other races to pass. How is that not a kind of racial discrimination/segregation? I don’t see how such radical move can be depicted as “not oppress white communities”. Interesting.

        • Loner Stoner

          It’s a reaction, maybe an overreaction. Maybe it’s justified. What I am sure about, and I believe you’d agree is, it isn’t productive.

      • Jay Cha

        I have video footage as well. The protesters even tried to force the guy to delete the video. That is violating the first amendment, but well lets not talk about that here.

  • Bryan

    The Honors program at UCLA refused to create a designated area or separate office for Honors students because UCLA faculty firmly belived that students at UCLA should be represented equally, disregarding academic standing or affiliation. This forces students to create bonds outside a formal construction, to bridge gaps that are not manufactured by an institution or deemed a “proper” association of people based on certain attributes. I love UCLA for its diversity, the constant mixing of peoples and ideas. I cannot speak from the vantage point of a minority, but from the outside looking in, and with empathetic lens, I imagine a spot made specifically for other cultures and find myself internally feeling bad. I always thought our college campus was a beautiful place to openly avert prejudice and deny racial tension. I love the mixing of culture at UCLA, and it seems that this program might deplete that diverse makeup that people enjoy so much. Again, I cannot speak as a minority, and this comment comes from a place of contemplation and desired understanding.

    • Drew

      A space for a multi- and cross-cultural center is necessary because there is a history of oppression towards particular communities and cultures that still needs institutionalized support. It’s common for White students to not feel the need for a multi- or cross-cultural center, but it MAY be because they may not be hurting or aching for the communities that they come from. Multi- and cross-cultural centers provide additional financial, emotional, professional, and academic support for students who have that burning desire and passion to empower themselves, their communities, and give back to the places they come from. There has been a long history of particular communities being denied access to various resources that the “average” American receives. These cultural centers make a valid difference within and beyond college campuses for historically oppressed individuals and communities. Also, cultures do not mix. They integrate, have conversations, mingle, and collaborate. Cultural centers will be the place for that. The cultural centers are a place for these various cultures to get the support that they need to move beyond the status quo education.

      • Bryan

        I appreciate the reply but have to admit that I do not agree with the assertion that “cultures do not mix”. Of course, cultures integrate. But the ability for cultures to coalesce into a common American experience is something to strive for. To say cultures cannot mix or have the ability to blend into a common community is extremely homogenous thinking. Who knows, maybe I’m just optimistic.

        • Loner Stoner

          Maybe it’s that they want to dictate the conversation from a minority perspective. Having a center gives minorities a degree of authority to drive the conversation on their own terms.

          I agree with you though. I think the center feels too divisive, and would undermine the efforts of minorities. It’s because I feel like the center would get lost in their message, and not necessarily reach people who would feel unwelcome in that center even if they say they’re open to everyone. Cultural groups at UCLA do empower their members and are open, so the aims of the multicultural center feel redundant. I think that there’s more and more minorities becoming leaders throughout the UCLA community that can drive that dialogue more effectively above all else.

          Quilt vs. melting pot? Doesn’t matter. We’re all different and can work together because we’re all people. The understanding and acknowledgement of each other is the important part. Whether we start all speaking Spanglish and eating Korean tacos is not important.