After working with the Norman Topping Student Aid Fund for 11 years, Christina Yokoyama concluded her last day as Topping director Thursday.
For nearly a month, Topping scholars organized several efforts to reverse the University’s decision to eliminate Yokoyama’s position. However, the provost’s office stood by its decision to enforce these structural changes in order to expand the program, the University stated.
“We will be working with the governing board, current students, alumni and student governments to expand the Topping Fund while maintaining the programming and support that are the hallmarks of its success,” Andrea Hodge, the vice provost of undergraduate programs, said in a statement to the Daily Trojan. “This growth will allow a larger number of undergraduate and graduate students with high financial need and a commitment to community service to become Topping Scholars.”
Topping scholars, colleagues and faculty members gathered at Student Union for a farewell reception for Yokoyama on Thursday. At the reception, Yokoyama thanked scholars for their unwavering support and determination following the University’s elimination of her position.
“It was a rough day because this is not going to be my normal routine anymore,” Yokoyama said. “It was really hard but really wonderful at the same time. I think that was necessary for me to move on to my next step … to have a sense of closure.”
Topping scholar Melissa Baldjieva, a sophomore majoring in business administration, said that many attendees also helped Yokoyama clear out her office and load boxes of her belongings into her car.
While the Topping program hosts several events in the office for the scholars, the turnout at the reception was exceptionally high, Baldjieva said.
“The Topping office was full, and there was barely a place to sit,” Baldjieva said. “It just comes to show how important Christina was to our people.”
As for the future of the Topping Fund, Hodge called for a Topping Governing Board meeting on Feb. 15, Yokoyama said. She and the Board members said they are unaware of what will be discussed at the meeting.
Topping scholar Sabrina Enriquez, a senior majoring in mathematics, said she has been meeting with Hodge and Vice President of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry to transfer the jurisdiction of the Topping Fund from the University’s Office of Undergraduate Programs to Student Affairs. Enriquez said that Carry watched the #SaveTopping rally on Jan. 18, and spoke with Enriquez about potentially making the switch.
“[He] knows students are distressed and his staff had been telling him how a lot of Topping students were going to the cultural centers more because they’re no longer comfortable with the Topping options,” Enriquez said. “He was interested in seeing how he could help his students.”
Enriquez said that if the Topping Fund moved under Dr. Carry’s leadership, “a lot of the problems that [the scholars] have with Hodge’s leadership will be addressed.”
According to Yokoyama, the Topping Fund was originally a program within the Division of Student Affairs but was later categorized as a financial aid program. In 2013, the Topping Fund was relocated to the University’s Undergraduate Programs.
“I think Student Affairs will be a much better fit,” Yokoyama said. “I think there will strictly be academic support which you could find anywhere at this University, but it’s the emotional support and the balance of the two that makes this program so special.”
The next few weeks will focus on further internal structure review of the Topping program with Carry and the provost’s office.
“People [are] feeling like we lost and the fight is over, but I want to emphasize that by no means is the fight over as far as we’re concerned,” Enriquez said.