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Project 1 group withdraws from Community Programs Office

By Erin Donnelly

March 18, 2013 10:41 p.m.

Program directors of Project 1 – a student group that offers mentoring and tutoring at Los Angeles high schools through the schools’ lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clubs – withdrew from the Community Programs Office last week, claiming the office is not a “safe space” for members of the LGBT community.

The Community Programs Office, also known as the CPO, houses about 25 student-run organizations that go into Los Angeles communities to address issues, including health, youth education and social justice.

Student leaders in the program office, however, claim that the withdrawal resulted from personal issues between the two organizations, rather than actual problems with how the programs office operates.

At the beginning of this academic year, the programs office created a subcommittee to further address concerns from the LGBT community, after about a year of tension between Project 1 and the CPO.

But Project 1’s student leaders said they did not see any positive results from the subcommittee and sent a letter of withdrawal to the office on Thursday.

In the letter, addressed to the director and advisers of the CPO, Project 1 leaders said they felt “tokenized” and did not think the program’s office was seriously responding to their concerns. They said they were verbally attacked for trying to implement changes in the way the programs office addresses members of the LGBT community and felt disrespected by their peers and adviser.

The student leaders asked the office in the letter to develop curriculum and implement trainings for all of the office’s staff on how to adequately support members of the LGBT community.

In response to Project 1’s letter, student leaders within the programs office sent a letter to Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Janina Montero last week. Their letter disputed Project 1’s allegations.

Kenneth Ramos, the chairman of the Campus Retention Committee within the CPO who identifies as a member of the LGBT community, said he felt Project 1’s letter did not recognize other students’ positive experiences within the programs office.

“It seems wrong to me,” said Ramos, who signed the letter. “I feel like my experiences within the CPO (have) been invalidated.”

Friction between Project 1 and the leaders of the CPO began to arise last year, said Briana Mendoza, the director of external affairs for Project 1.

She said she told her adviser last spring that some members of the LGBT community told her they felt disrespected in the office by some CPO interns.

In their letter, Project 1 leaders said that some people in the office said they were uncomfortable with the work that Project 1 is doing with LGBT high school students.

Mendoza said she did not feel her concerns were adequately addressed by her supervisor, who she said expected Project 1 to take on the majority of the responsibility in the development and implementation of curriculum to train CPO staff members how to adequately support members of the LGBT community.

“That isn’t what being an ally is about,” Mendoza said. “They shouldn’t have to count on us to fix the problems in their office.”

Leaders from both the CPO and Project 1 accused one another of lacking initiative to help implement concrete changes within the programs office.

Antonio Sandoval, the director of the CPO, said the CPO is a student-run organization and students are expected to implement their own programs to address concerns they might have with the organization.

The subcommittee to research the concerns of students in the LGBT community was created this fall after students within the office expressed concerns regarding the treatment of members of the LGBT community, Sandoval said. The subcommittee is housed within the Campus Retention Committee, a portion of the programs office dedicated to researching ways to improve student retention.

The subcommittee is working on surveys and focus groups to better understand LGBT students’ opinion of the CPO but has not produced any changes within the office yet, Sandoval said.

Project 1 will now operate as its own group and its leaders said they do not plan on rejoining the programs office even if their requested changes are implemented, because the leaders said they cannot guarantee that the programs office will remain a safe space.

Sandoval said he plans to release his own official response to Project 1’s withdrawal later this week.

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