Fresno State President Dr. Joseph Castro addressed the Associated Students Inc. (ASI) last week to propose that the student government help fund a memorial statue of Nelson Mandela in the Peace Garden.
According to Castro, a fundraising subcommittee, which includes former Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin and other notable community members, is seeking funds for the project. The cost is estimated at $150,000 – about $25,000 was requested from ASI at its Feb. 28 meeting. If funded, the statue of Mandela, a historic peacemaker and South African president in the 1990s, is estimated to be completed by summer 2019.
Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, a co-founder of the Peace Garden and professor emeritus of peace studies, also attended the meeting.
“Dr. Kapoor and I and others will join that effort,” Castro said. “There will be significant contributions made by individuals, community members and the university. We would invite ASI as an organization, and students across the campus to consider participating in this.”
The proposal met resistance from ASI Executive Vice President of Finance Cam Patterson, who expressed concerns over the inclusion of Mandela. He viewed the addition to the Peace Garden as controversial.
Castro, responded that there was widespread support for Mandela and said he had only received one email against the selection of the icon.
“None of the people in the Peace Garden are perfect people,” Castro said. “None of us are perfect. But as I think about heroic figures, Mandela is certainly a historic figure, who represented peace and progressive thinking and is a great role model for all of us here at the university.”
Kapoor said he helped create the Peace Garden due to a “love affair” with Fresno State that “grows stronger and stronger each day.” He said the Peace Garden was created to inspire students on campus and pay tribute to historic icons of human rights, social justice and nonviolence.
“There are people who believe in violence and confrontation,” Kapoor said. “Then there are people who believe in dialogue and conversation. These are the people who taught us how to resolve conflict in a peaceful and nonviolent way.”
Kapoor said the addition of Mandela to the Peace Garden will honor him as someone who helped end the apartheid system in Africa without bloodshed. He added that ASI was instrumental in the creation of the Gandhi memorial statue in 1990 and asked for the current senate to invest again.
“You need to reclaim that ownership,” Kapoor said. “I would like to see the Peace Garden by the students, of the students, for the students.”
To illustrate his point, Kapoor held up a copy of The Collegian’s Jan. 31 issue in which a story was published noting ASI’s extensive reserves.
“I saw this newspaper,” Kapoor said. “It says ‘Where did all this money come from?’”
In the end, Kapoor left the decision of whether or not to help fund the statue of Mandela to the student government. Whether ASI’s funds are critical for the project is unclear. ASI will take the matter up again at its next meeting.