The Associated Students Office of the President held Raise Your Voice! — a town hall meeting addressing diversity, representation and marginalization in the campus community — at Corwin Pavilion last night.
The event provided an open forum for students to address UCSB administration about university-wide policies regarding issues of sexual violence as well as retention and recruitment aimed at promoting diversity. The UC Campus Climate and Diversity survey study was presented, and the forum included a student panel as well as an administration panel and open space for student organizations to voice their requests regarding campus climate issues.
The meeting was co-hosted by Student Commission on Racial Equality, Student Lobby, I.D.E.A.S., Muslim Students Association, Multicultural Center Council, Black Pioneers Renaissance Organization, Black Student Union, Human Rights Board and Arab Student Group.
A.S. President Sophia Armen, third-year political science major Katlen Abuata and A.S. On-Campus Senator Navkiran “Navi” Kaur led the student panel discussion, which discussed the need for developing diversity through student advocacy and administration cooperation amongst other topics.
RJ Thomsen, Men Against Rape organizer, co-chair of Queer Commission and fourth-year sociology and feminist studies double major, said the hostile environment toward racial and ethnic minorities as well as the queer community — which is present in Isla Vista — has made it difficult for underrepresented students to succeed.
“It’s hard to get to class when there are people yelling slurs at you, when there are people literally throwing things at you,” Thomsen said. “These are from my personal experiences that I’ve had. Community is survival.”
The persistence of such hostility has major repercussions on the personal lives of affected students, according to Thomsen, who said students’ academic success can be hurt by this negativity.
“When you have an unsafe environment, when you have professors that invalidate you in classes and people that make you not want to go to classes,” Thomsen said. “You get lower grades, you get more people dropping out, you get more people of color dropping out, you have less of a sense of community and community is survival.”
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young took part in the administrative panel, which also included Educational Opportunity Program Academic Director Lupe Navarro-Garcia, Senior Associate Dean of Enrollment Services Mary Jacob, Associate Dean of Student Life and Activities Katya Armistead, Senior Associate Dean of Student Life Debbie Fleming, Acting Associate Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Academic Policy Anna Everett and Executive Assistant to the Chancellor Kevin McCauley.
During the panel, Young said there are no easy answers to the issue of improving campus climate and noted that it is difficult to establish regulatory solutions that directly result in a campus environment with more diversity and inclusivity.
Young acknowledged the reality of decreased funding for the Office of Student Affairs, as he said its budget has been cut by roughly $11 million over the last 23 years he has worked as vice chancellor. However, Young said student groups who target the administration as an opposing body are not using a constructive means of addressing students’ needs.
“This whole notion of the administration just makes me uncomfortable,” Young said. “I’m not a part of the administration — I’m not sure who that is — but I certainly don’t want to be included with some of the people that I think some of you are including in that classification.”
Nonetheless, Young sympathized with many of the concerns raised by student attendees, saying that there is a lack of funding and attention paid to certain issues that directly affect campus climate.
“We’ve done the charts to show the lack of funding that has gone to students versus other aspects of the institution and you’re right. It is a matter of priorities, but it’s just that there are people in power that don’t agree with those priorities the way that I do or the way that you do,” Young said. “So I’m not going to defend those choices. I disagree with those, I think they are wrong, that they are a mistake, I think they’re dangerous and I’ve been very clear of that.”