ASI donated $1,000 for Mandela statue. Why are statue supporters upset?

Illustration by Kong Thao

The Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) voted to donate $1,000 for a Nelson Mandela statue, but it’s not the amount for which supporters of the project were hoping.

Professors from the Africana studies department spoke during public comment at last week’s ASI senate meeting in an attempt to persuade ASI to donate funds for the installation of a Mandela statue in the Peace Garden at Fresno State.

Professor emeritus Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor addressed the senate once again to stress the need for student ownership of the Peace Garden. He had made an appearance at the last senate meeting to propose the donation with University President Dr. Joseph Castro.

After public comment, the senators began to deliberate over the amount of funds to donate to the project. ASI President Blake Zante expressed his support for the project and said that any contribution would be significant to help install a monument that would demonstrate “the values that we claim to hold as a university.”

Various senators argued against the requested amount of $25,000. Vice President of Finance Cam Patterson urged senators to take into consideration the amount of funds that have already been spent on projects this year.

“We had a meeting where we allocated $105,000,” Patterson said. “We had another meeting where we allocated another $15,000 reserve pull, and I just want us to be considerate of future senates that we have for ASI.”

Sen. Edgar Castro, parking and safety, also spoke about fiscal responsibility and the impact a monument would have for students.

“I’m in favor of this project, but I feel like the amount [$25,000] is a lot of money,” Castro said. “For example, that could go to more sponsored activity grants, something that will affect the students directly.”

A motion was later made by Sen. Travis Childress, Greek affairs, to lower the donation to $500. The discussion continued with many senators echoing the argument that a Mandela statue would not directly impact students.

Sen. Elias J. Karam, Lyles College of Engineering, expressed concerns about the rate of spending and warned senators that they could potentially “exhaust reserves.”

Zante asked that the senate consider a “reasonable” $5,000 donation instead of the $500.
Sen. Alexandra Chavez, student affairs, amended the motion, and the senate voted to increase the donation amount to $5,000.

The discussion continued with Sen. Amber Malhi, diversity, equity and inclusion pointing out that representation does have a direct impact on international students and students of color on campus.

“There’s representation in the Peace Garden,” Mahli said. “For some international students, there is a lot of emotion connected with who the figures are in the Peace Garden. So just remember that this is representing students.”

Childress argued that a poll he posted to the Fresno State Book Trade & Advice Facebook page on whether ASI should fund the statue overwhelmingly showed that students did not want ASI funds to be used for the monument.
The poll asked people to give their opinions about the proposed donation of ASI funds by selecting from poll responses. The responses included: “I don’t think ASI funds should go towards this;” “Mandela would want that money going towards our education.”

Other responses included: “No! Big no no” and “I want ASI funds to go towards this statue.”

Out of 300 responses only 20 people chose “I want ASI funds to go towards this statue.” The Facebook group is made up of current and former students.

“We should be spending our money wisely. It should go to advocacy efforts, student well-being and I don’t believe the beautification of the campus is our general purpose in ASI,” Childress said. “As representatives of students, we should listen to the student voice. Students are saying ‘no’ so, of course, we should not do this.”

Zante countered Childress by saying that a social media poll is not a representative sample of campus, and the poll voters were not verified as current students. Mahli added that the vote to create a senator for diversity and inclusion last year, means that students expect ASI to highlight diversity on campus.

Childress moved to amend the amount one last time and ultimately the senate approved a $1,000 contribution to the Mandela statue project. Africana studies professors including Kapoor left the meeting after vocalizing their disappointment in the lengthy debate.

Kapoor stated, “We respect your decision, but we are terribly disappointed.”

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