Several high-ranking university officials including Chancellor Henry T. Yang sat with students in El Centro on Saturday for six hours, going point-by-point through a list of more than 30 demands made by Latino UC Santa Barbara students.
The students are part of a campus group formed in April, VOCEROS, which means “spokespeople” in Spanish and is also used as an acronym for Voices Of the Community, En Resistencia, Organizing Solidarity.
The group released a long list of demands last week requesting, among other things, that UCSB declare itself a “sanctuary campus” for undocumented students, increase the number of mental health staff who identify as people of color and create a Central American Studies department and major.
Student Advocate General Joseline Garcia, fourth-year global studies and art double major, said VOCEROS had met with administrators for a total of nine hours on Friday and Saturday, working toward solving what VOCEROS members say is UCSB’s “extreme lack of care” for Latino students.
VOCEROS met with administrators in the chancellor’s office on Friday for three hours and then organized meetings in the morning and afternoon on Saturday in El Centro. Following the afternoon discussion in El Centro, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn said UCSB was making the group’s demands a high priority.
“I think you can tell that we’re taking this seriously because you have a lot of university leadership here today and yesterday,” Klawunn said.
UCSB is a Hispanic-Serving Institution, meaning that more than a quarter of its students are Hispanic. Currently, 27 percent of UCSB students report that they are Hispanic.
“These reforms are for the 27 percent here to keep that 27 percent here,” said Jasmine Ortiz, first-year environmental studies major. “We already struggle coming from our communities to get here and then we have to struggle twice as hard to maintain our positions here.”
The sit-down in El Centro, a building near the library that serves as a meeting place for several Latino student-advocacy groups, was direct and productive, with Marisela Márquez, the executive director of Associated Students, serving as a mediator between administrators and students.
Administrators largely seemed open to the students’ demands, at one point remarking that none of VOCEROS’ requests seemed impossible. As the group went through the list, Márquez asked that administrators list barriers to completing the demands as well as solutions.
Most often, administrators said time and money are the main barriers hindering the completion of VOCEROS’ demands. For example, Maria Herrera-Sobek, the associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity and academic policy, said she was instrumental in creating a Chicano Department at UC Irvine, but that it took more than 15 years.
“It does take some time, but it is not impossible,” Herrera-Sobek said of creating a Central American major and department at UCSB. “You can start right away by having a committee of students and faculty and administrators exploring and identifying the courses that are out there already” that could fulfill the proposed major’s requirements.
Garcia said there is a need for a Central America-specific department and major because Hispanic spaces on campus often focus on Mexican-Americans.
“Within the Latinx community, we want to break the barriers between communities,” Garcia said, using a term designed to include Latino and Latina students and Hispanic students who do not identify within traditional gender roles.
“Students feel like the Chicano Department and a lot of the other resources we have are very Mexican-centric,” Garcia said. “We’re not trying to pit departments against each other or trying to get resources from another department, but more-so trying to expand what we already have and be that 100 percent that we want to be.”
One of the groups’ most feasible demands, according to administrators, is the institution of a Latinx Parents Weekend. Klawunn said she would work to add some of the proposed changes into the fall parents weekend, such as bilingual events and workshops oriented toward Latino parents.
VOCEROS also had multiple demands relating to campus buildings. The group asked for a guarantee that El Centro would remain a permanent space for Latinx students and also requested that an existing building in Manzanita Village be designated for Latinx students.
Marc Fisher, a vice chancellor, said the university only plans to make routine modifications to the El Centro building over the next few decades.
“I can look out 5 or 10 or even 20 years and I can see what the next buildings are, and there are no plans for this site,” Fisher said.
Administrators also responded in favor of dedicating an existing building in Manzanita Village to Latinx students. While housing is already determined for next year, Klawunn said, there could be a Latinx-specific building by fall 2017.
Fisher said that while it can be “hard to build community” in Manzanita Village as opposed to the standard freshman dorms like Anacapa or San Nicolas, he didn’t think there would be much resistance to the Manzanita Village idea if that is what students desire.
UCSB Police Chief Dustin Olson also attended the meeting, promising to meet with students and possibly other local police agencies by fall to discuss reducing the “footprint” of law enforcement at events like Deltopia or during Halloween.
Olson also said the department will “definitely be committed and continue to be committed to sensitivity to gender and diversity” in hiring practices.
Both students and administrators were willing to work with each other and appeared relieved by the productive nature of the talks.
“It’s Saturday, we should be relaxing … but I’m here meeting with you all and that’s because these things are very important and these are things that affect people’s lives,” Garcia said.
“At other UCs you have to literally protest for days just to get [the administrators’] attention,” she continued. “So the fact that we didn’t have to do that is a blessing in my opinion.”
The full list of VOCEROS demands is available as part of the group’s online petition to Chancellor Yang.
[Correction, May 23: An initial version of this article said students met with administrators in El Centro for three hours on Saturday. There were actually two three-hour meetings between administrators and students on Saturday in El Centro.]