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M.E.Ch.A. builds coalition to address grievances

Student organizations that were denied funding by Associated Students, Inc. are looking to collaborate and address issues of institutionalized discrimination at Fresno State through discussions with administration and leadership.

“We want real change, and we want these things to actually happen,” said Maria Ortega, president of Fresno State’s chapter of Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán (M.E.Ch.A.) in an interview Tuesday.

After protest at last week’s ASI meeting, in which students, faculty and alumni protested the denied funds for M.E.Ch.A and other groups, an inquiry by M.E.Ch.A into ASI was rumored to take place.

Ortega confirmed that no investigation is underway. However, she said if anything were to move forward, it would be agreed on among all the student organizations that have expressed concern over ASI’s decision-making.

“We strive for consensus,” Ortega said. “If we do move forward with anything, before we do and before we make that public, we have to make sure everyone is on board.”

After originally being denied funding, M.E.Ch.A. sent ASI a public letter voicing its concerns over minority discrimination at Fresno State and outlining six demands for ASI to follow. Ortega said “five to six” other groups then came forward expressing similar experiences.

Having “consensus” across these groups was part of the reason M.E.Ch.A. asked to reschedule a meeting proposed by Fresno State President Joseph Castro last Wednesday.

“This isn’t just a M.E.Ch.A. thing,” Ortega said. “Because there are other groups that are involved, we decided it was going to be very unfair for us as M.E.Ch.A. to have a meeting solely with the president when it’s a coalition.”

Ortega said another reason for asking to reschedule was because Castro’s late notice did not give them “enough time to prepare exactly what we wanted to say.”

“We felt it was a little unfair for them to call us two hours before they wanted to have a meeting with us,” Ortega said.

Castro tweeted later Wednesday night: “@MosesRMenchaca and I invited the MECHA President to meet with us early this pm to discuss their concerns. Our invitation was declined.”

Ortega said the collaborating groups are hoping to schedule a joint meeting with Castro in the coming days, looking to address the issues with “concrete” results.

She said the discussion would not be about ASI’s denial of funding, but the bigger picture as marginalized groups on campus “still feel oppressed,” despite the university’s promotion of diversity.

“It’s more than the fact that our funding was denied; it’s the reasons behind why and the justification for that,” Ortega said.

Ortega also said the groups would like to meet with ASI to address discriminatory issues and clarify that there is a difference between “focus and exclusivity.”

“ASI and its senators seem to be very uneducated in the difference between focusing on a specific group of a particular population, versus being exclusive and only admitting that certain population,” Ortega said.

ASI President Moses Menchaca said ASI has not been in contact with M.E.Ch.A. since last week’s meeting, but would be willing to meet with the club.

“I would love to sit down and talk and just have a conversation,” Menchaca said. “Make sure that students feel that they’re represented and know that we’re here for them.”

Yet in Ortega’s opinion, “ASI is not representative of the student body.”

“It’s not to discredit all the things they’ve done, but it’s not representative of the community,” she said.

By protesting the meeting, Ortega said the organizations weren’t there to be rebels, but to point out serious issues.

“We weren’t there necessarily to cause a ruckus,” Ortega said. “It was really about these things that have been boiling up, this institutionalized racism and institutionalized oppression.”

Menchaca said that since the meeting’s unrest, ASI has been focused on “maintaining day-to-day operations.”

“We’ve been in conversation with some people from the university side to make sure we’re complying with everything,” Menchaca said.

Menchaca said it has been important to make sure senators “feel safe going through classes and continuing to do their work.” He said as president it has been hard to deal with student leaders “coming in your office crying or being afraid to do their work because of some of the individuals in the crowd.”

“That’s what we’re having to deal with now,” he said. “What can we do to help out the senate to best continue to do the great work that they’ve been doing, despite the allegations.”

Yet Menchaca expressed that ASI was “very proud of our sponsored activity grants.”

“We’ve given more money than ever before, and we’re halfway through the semester,” Menchaca said. “We’re more than happy to be able to showcase the great work that ASI has been able to allow clubs to have and put on the events that they’ve had on campus.”

Brianna Vaccari and Ricardo Cano contributed to this report.