DEB, MSI discussed at garden party

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The Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE) held a garden party and teach-in Friday in Mullin Grove to discuss the idea of resistance on campus, Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) funding and the importance of the Multicultural Summer Institute (MSI).

Students played games and socialized while enjoying upbeat music and the sunny afternoon. Before breaking into small groups to discuss resistance efforts on campus, student leaders spoke to about 50 students assembled.

DEB Club Liaison and CODE core member Abhilasha Bhola (senior) explained DEB’s role on campus. The 10-student board conducts research on Occidental through meetings and surveys and will produce a report on their findings at the end of the semester. Specifically, DEB has been looking at how various groups and offices on campus hold themselves accountable to Occidental’s mission, and Bhola said having an official report will inform the community on where things can be improved.

The other primary objective of DEB is to serve as a source of funding for student diversity initiatives, Bhola said. DEB was established spring 2014 but has remained unfunded in its inaugural year after attempts to raise student body fees were rejected by Honor Board. Following the adoption of a new constitution March 4, student body fees can now be increased through a student body vote. Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Senate voted unanimously March 14 to approve DEB’s proposal to put a student body fee increase of $10 per semester to a student vote.

 

The student body fee increase would provide DEB with its own source of income each semester, and allow it to fund initiatives by students, faculty and groups on campus. In the proposal DEB presented to Senate, the board outlined an 80-10-10 split for the funding, with 80 percent going toward external programming requests, 10 percent toward DEB-initiated programming and 10 percent toward organizational costs. DEB Secretary Tim Lewis (junior) said the allocated organizational costs would also function as a savings account. According to the ballot on myOxy, unspent funds will be deposited in ASOC savings.

The 80 percent of DEB’s budget allocated for programming requests will be available to students initiating programs without the structure of a club, as well as faculty, cultural and other student organizations.

Unlike the DEB proposal, Senate’s primary funding process is only available to registered clubs that have positive account balances; campus departments can also apply for capital improvement funding through Senate. Through the ASOC arts endowment, students can apply individually for funding for approved art projects, according to ASOC’s website. Students or groups interested in sustainability-related projects can also seek funding through ASOC’s Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund.

Similar to Senate’s club funding process, DEB funding proposals go through a funding committee before being voted on by the 10 members of the board, Lewis said.

While Senate has previously provided funding to cultural organizations for events, Bhola said that DEB funding will limit the amount of fundraising needed for such events.

“It’s more funding, and it’s to fill the gap that any cultural clubs or any student organizations have in regards to funding,” Bhola said.

Lewis said that student groups, as well as local artists, came to DEB last semester seeking financial assistance for events, and the board had to turn them away because of insufficient funds. According to Senate’s Sept. 21 minutes, Senate allocated DEB $500 last semester to match the discretionary budget provided to Honor Board. This semester, Occidental’s new Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Rhonda Brown has given DEB $3,000, according to DEB’s Feb. 21 meeting minutes.

The money from Brown allows DEB to provide some funding to organizations this semester, unlike in the fall.

According to Bhola, the South Asian Students Association has been unable to get funding through Senate to host a Holi dinner because of a deficit in their account, and have turned to DEB for help.

“We’re not using their account as a metric for if they should be funded,” Bhola said. “It’s really just the value that their program provides to the campus.”

The ballot for DEB funding is currently open and will close next Monday at noon; the initiative needs 20 percent of the student body to vote, and a two-thirds majority to pass. Bhola urged students to vote in support of DEB funding and spread the word to their friends.

Another main topic of the garden party was MSI.

Jacky Rodriguez (junior), who served as a teaching assistant during MSI last year, spoke on the importance of MSI for marginalized students. The program introduces incoming first-year students to Occidental and the broader Southern California community. Rodriguez said MSI students often have higher retention and graduation rates. According to Rodriguez, students who participate in MSI also often become actively involved on campus.

“There is evidence that MSI is a crucial program for the survival of students of color on campus,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez expressed concerns over the possibility of shifting the focus away from social justice to leadership or STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We need to protect MSI’s original purpose, as it was meant to be a resistive space on campus,” Rodriguez said.

Later in the garden party, as attendees debriefed, Biology Professor Kerry Thompson, this year’s academic co-director of MSI, happened to walk by and stopped to speak with students, who expressed their concerns over last year’s program. Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Jorge Gonzalez announced Thompson’s appointment last Wednesday in a campus-wide email. Thompson said while he is in charge of the MSI curriculum, his co-director, Assistant Dean of Students for Intercultural Affairs Jonathan Grady, will oversee co-curricular activities as they work together.

In his announcement email, Gonzalez said the joint appointment of Thompson as interim dean of the college and MSI co-director guarantees the central role MSI plays in academics at Occidental.

Other speakers at Friday’s garden party emphasized the importance of intersecting identities.

Muslim Students Association (MSA) e-board member Karim Sharif (sophomore) spoke about the recent rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. and around the world, including on Occidental’s campus. According to Sharif, even though students often consider Occidental a place for religious diversity, Muslims, along with other religious groups and identities on campus, are often erased from dialogue and activism. Sharif said he wanted to emphasize the importance of recognition of religious diversity and the intersections of religion with other identities, such as race and sexual orientation.

“We’re here to stress the fact that there needs to be more of a recognition for religious diversity as well as thinking about the intersections different identity groups have with religion,” Sharif said.

Sharif also expressed MSA’s support for DEB funding, saying all cultural and religious groups on campus would benefit from having more funds available to them.

QSA President Alexis Morse (sophomore) and Vice President Margaux Ziss (sophomore) spoke to their own and others’ work on gender inclusive housing on campus. Ziss touched on the importance of ending the marginalization of queer bodies on campus.

“When we talk about gender inclusive housing, we are talking about resisting the idea that you must be cisgender and heterosexual to be valued as fully human,” Ziss said.

According to Ziss, efforts by Oxy United for Black Liberation and queer students have led to changes, such as increased gender inclusive housing and bathrooms next year, including first-year housing in Chilcott Hall.

At the end of the garden party, Bhola expressed plans to hold similar gatherings in the future, asking students for their input on campus activism and further conversations and events.