Third campus climate forum focuses on cultural resource centers

The Office for Diversity and Strategic Initiatives held the third Campus Climate Open Forum on Wednesday which focused on the issues of space and funding for cultural resource centers.

The Forum, titled “Funding, Space and Student Centers,” was moderated by George Sanchez, the vice dean for diversity and strategic initiatives, and featured Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Ainsley Carry, Rosalind Conerly, assistant director for the Center for Black Cultural and Student Affairs, and Mary Ho, the assistant vice dean of diversity and strategic initiatives. They discussed their takes on the need for the improvement of existing student centers and the installation of new ones.

Sanchez opened the discussion and said that the purpose of the forum is to create a safe space to talk about campus climate.

“What we’ve tried to do is create both a safe space, so that we’re respectful of each other and the dialogue back and forth, but also a brave space, in which we can talk about serious issues that we’re facing here at USC in terms of diversity and campus climate,” Sanchez said.

Conerly detailed the foundational history of cultural centers around the nation and USC cultural centers in particular.

According to Conerly, student centers emerged at predominantly white institutions as a result of student activism in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“We fast-forward to 2016, and we see that a lot of students are feeling a lot of the same things,” Conerly said. “They may be manifesting in different ways, but they’re still there.”

Carry provided background information on the details of current cultural spaces. He highlighted the three requests from the student Campus Climate Resolution — to expand existing cultural centers, add new cultural centers and increase budgeting — and looked to the forum to help formulate solutions.

Ho referenced her past experiences as the program director of Santa Clara University’s Office for Multicultural Learning and director of Asian Pacific American Student Services to emphasize the dissatisfaction she has had with the lack of progress in diversity talks.

“I do get frustrated around the same conversations that occur over and over again,” Ho said.

“We need to look at what we should do with what we have on this campus, and what do we need to add to what we have.”

USG Senate-elect Sabrina Enriquez closed out the panel, representing the opinions of the Campus Climate Coalition and others in the student body.

“The cultural centers we have are understaffed, underfunded and overcrowded,” she said. “Because certain groups haven’t been seen as worthy enough, students, especially students from these groups, have been exploited. All of these centers should be created at the same time.”

Enriquez emphasized the discrepancy between the amount of funding for cultural resource centers and the salaries of top USC administrators such as President C. L. Max Nikias.

Panelists then opened the floor for questions, which included discussions about spaces for cultural centers at the USC Village and special-interest floors in housing. Carry said that the agreement with the City of Los Angeles over the construction of the Village stipulated that a certain portion of it be set aside for retail space to replace the previous businesses in the old University Village.

Sanchez criticized the lack of transparency with the project, which he said is mostly residential space and lacks collaborative spaces for students that could be used for cultural resource centers.

Enriquez stressed that the conversation about increasing space should not create a competition between cultural centers for resources, but rather find a way to benefit all parties. She said creating a new facility for cultural resource centers could help alleviate the problem.

The next Campus Climate Open Forum will be held at the Vineyard Room at the Davidson Conference Center on March 30.

Sanchez said that these forums should generate action for campus climate issues on campus rather than inaction.

“We want to make sure these sessions aren’t just talking sessions, but action sessions,” Sanchez said.