Kareem Elzein said a lack of funding and proper resources are key disadvantages of social justice projects.
To alleviate the issue, Elzein, who was a community organizer for 10 years, worked with four other graduate students to found the Bruin Excellence and Student Transformation Grant Program, or BEST.
BEST, a program funded by the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, will provide grants of up to $7,000 per project to a maximum of 14 student-run projects that address campus climate, retention or diversity issues.
Vice Chancellor Jerry Kang said, in a campus-wide email last Wednesday, the grant aims to fund projects necessary to increasing inclusivity on campus.
“(BEST) will target resources in ways that will change the way we think about and do diversity work,” Kang said in the email.
In order to get their projects funded, applicants must attend a proposal development workshop on either April 19 or 20, and submit their final proposal by May 16, Elzein said. He added details on how to submit the proposal will be provided closer to the application deadline.
Elzein, BEST co-director and a graduate student in education, said the idea for the program came from the Forum to Reclaim Diversity. Members of the Coalition Against Structural Inequality, a collection of UCLA faculty, staff and students interested in campus climate issues, organized the forum last April.
Elzein said he and the other forum organizers compiled a report of some of the campus climate issues present on campus after the event and forwarded it to Kang. Along with the report, they also proposed a grant program for social entrepreneurship, he added.
Jonathan Feingold, special assistant to Kang, said the vice chancellor’s office is funding the program because they want to support a grassroots effort and were impressed with the program team members’ backgrounds.
“We see (BEST) as one of a set of projects that can move (UCLA) to an equal learning environment,” he said.
Elzein added the team also talked to student groups, like the Muslim Student Association and Samahang Pilipino, and individuals affiliated with the Community Programs Office to see what kind of support they needed.
He said he thinks this grant will complement the work already being done in these organizations and provide resources to individuals and groups not affiliated with those organizations.
“We want to bring their work to the next level and make them broader and bigger in terms of causing impact,” said Oscar Mayorga, BEST co-director and a graduate student in education.
Ayesha Rasheed, external vice president of the Muslim Student Association, said she expects MSA will apply for grants to fund projects in mental health, Islamophobia and community retention.
“As students, we cannot do a lot of programming on our own, so the funding and mentorship (BEST) provides makes it a lot easier for the work that we do,” she said.
Jazz Kiang, chair of CPO’s Campus Retention Committee, said he thinks the grant will help student groups, but there should also be permanent funding that improves retention and diversity. He added he thinks the Social Justice Referendum, which would increase student fees by $24.99 if it is passed in the May undergraduate student government election, would be a better solution.
Elzein said individuals and groups whose projects are funded will be assigned a mentor who would provide resources and assistance.
“We want to make sure people participating in this program feel like we have their backs,” he said.
Mayorga said they will be holding an information session for interested students Wednesday in the Carnesale Commons Hermosa Room at 6 p.m.