Groups protest denial of funding for MEChA

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Members of the public who attended the Associated Students, Inc. meeting March 5 raise their hands after ASI would not allow them to speak about a proposed Jesus statue on campus after the open forum portion of the meeting ended. Jesse Franz / The Collegian

Protesting students, faculty and alumni challenged Fresno State’s motto “Discovery. Diversity. Distinction.” at Associated Students, Inc.’s public meeting held Wednesday, expressing concerns over discrimination against underrepresented minorities after several student organizations were denied funding.

The ASI finance committee has denied funding to four groups this academic year, one of which was then appealed, on grounds the groups did not meet the grant’s guidelines of being inclusive to all Fresno State students.

One such denied group is Fresno State’s chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.), a national student organization that promotes higher education, culture and history of Chicanos. The group organizes the annual Chican@ Youth Conference (CYC), a tradition held at Fresno State for the last 42 years.

ASI’s vice president of finance, Rebecca Rosengarten, said M.E.Ch.A was denied funding because its application was unclear due to confusing language about whether it was an all-inclusive event open to people of all ethnicities.

But according to Dr. Christina Herrera, a professor of Chicano and Latin American studies, M.E.Ch.A’s application “clearly said that the event is open to all students.”

“They are claiming that because the CYC was originally targeted toward students of color, that somehow it is discriminatory,” Herrera said. “However, if you look at the application, it says very clearly in simple English that this is open to students regardless of their ethnicity.”

Yet in light of ASI’s decision, Herrera said while the department of Chicano and Latin American studies was “absolutely outraged,” it was “not surprised.”

“There’s nothing new to this,” Herrera said. “ASI has had a history of this discrimination.”

“What is surprising is that this had been funded for the last 41 years,” she said. “It’s troubling when something that has precedent would suddenly be denied for such a reason as discrimination.”

In response to the funding denial, M.E.Ch.A decided to write a public letter outlining its concerns and stating its demands. After it went public, M.E.Ch.A said other groups who have previously been denied funding came forward to concur their denials were also based on reasoning of discrimination.

In a draft copy acquired by The Collegian, M.E.Ch.A’s letter stated, “We are outraged that your committee would indirectly accuse us of reverse racism and demand that you take the necessary steps to educate yourselves on this topic.”

However, instead of going straight to the public, Rosengarten said that if M.E.Ch.A had taken the step of filing an appeal to ASI, the outcome could have been different.

In a letter written to M.E.Ch.A, Rosengarten states, “Had an appeal been submitted in accordance with the ASI… that this event was open to all students and benefits current Fresno State students, the appeal would have resulted in M.E.Ch.A receiving the requested funding. Unfortunately, no such appeal was filed.”

President Joseph Castro also was brought into the discussion, tweeting Wednesday night: “@MosesRMenchaca and I invited the MECHA President to meet with us early this pm to discuss their concerns. Our invitation was declined.”

Maria Oretega, a senior majoring in political science and sociology, asked ASI senators in the meeting, “If our university truly values diversity, as we would infer given how often it is flaunted, why are groups like ours continually treated with disrespect?”

Oretega, a member of M.E.Ch.A, said that Fresno State has not made a “safe space” for underrepresented and marginalized groups.

“The fact that we have to justify why marginalized groups need a safe space is not acceptable,” Oretega said. “We see this not just as a M.E.Ch.A issue, but as a systemic issue going on within the institution.”

During 30 minutes, the amount of time allotted by ASI for public comment, of the meeting, approximately 30 students, faculty and alumni expressed concern over ASI’s funding allocation.

Professor Melissa Knight, part of the women’s studies department and a representative of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Fresno State, said the denial of funding by the finance committee was “abject discrimination” and the senators “who have sat silent are just as complicit.”

“All of this, it’s been building,” Knight said. “It will continue – this does not go away.”

Dr. Matthew Jendian, chairman of the sociology department, said that with the “good portion” of the university’s state allocation funding going toward “outreach to different parts of Central California,” ASI should consider similar outreach with the student funds it controls.

Meanwhile, student Senam Bansah said, “We should not have to be here educating this body of senators and executives on the living history of oppression of these people.”

Due to the growing unrest of the audience, ASI executive vice president Justin Whisten announced the meeting room was to be cleared, and ASI would reconvene in 10 minutes. As the senators left the conference room, part of the crowd started to chant, “You shoot us down, we shut you down.”

During this intermission, in which all of the senators deliberated in a separate room closed to the public, ASI President Moses Menchaca said it was a time “to reflect on some of the comments, to listen and consider what was being said” by the “most active crowd” ASI had seen this year.

Meanwhile, the waiting audience members deliberated with one another about the events unfolding.

First-year graduate student Christopher Collins, of Phi Beta Sigma, said funding was denied twice to his organization for hosting an open beauty pageant that awards a $1,000 scholarship to the winner. Calling ASI’s statements of denial “erroneous,” he wanted to know how ASI defines diversity.

“Last time I checked, the university’s mantra is ‘Discovery. Diversity. Distinction.’,” Collins said. “If you’re not living by it, it’s false advertisement.”

In an interview on Thursday, Rosengarten said this funding issue could move forward if M.E.Ch.A. comes to ASI to discuss the misunderstanding. However, if M.E.Ch.A. begins an investigation as it suggested at Wednesday’s meeting, Rosengarten said ASI would be “more than happy to help.”

“This is all public information, and if they want to do their own investigation into why the four applications were denied, I would be happy to help out wherever I could in that,” she said.

Expressing her confusion as to why faculty members at the meeting “felt that there were more than four applications denied,” Rosengarten said the investigation could be beneficial in making sure “everyone understands that ASI is not systemically denying applications.”

“I think it would be good for ASI to be able to show that we’re not discriminating against funds,” Rosengarten said.