Photo by Jen Kelly

HSU Cultural Center Budget Slashed

Associated Students leaves student body devastated after significant reductions in cultural center's budget.
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Associated Students leaves student body devastated after significant reductions in cultural center’s budget.

Two months ago, Associated Students released its proposed budget for the 2020-21 school year at Humboldt State University. Included in this budget were major budget cuts to on-campus cultural centers such as the Multicultural Center and the Eric Rofes Multicultural Queer Center.

For the budgeting process to begin, A.S. applications are submitted by various campus-based clubs to the A.S. Finance Committee, previously known as the Board of Finance. From there, the committee reviews all the incoming applications and after holding public appeals, creates a Recommended Budget that is sent over the A.S. Board of Directors, a mix of A.S. elected representatives and faculty advisers. The Board of Directors then holds another round of public appeals, drafts a revised Recommended Budget and sends it over the A.S. president, who promptly turns it over to the campus president for official approval.

David Lopez, the Associative Vice President of A.S. and a sophomore at HSU, emphasized that he still greatly values the cultural centers but they will be funded differently.

“We really appreciate them for the work they do,” Lopez said. “So to make sure that they continue to do that work still because we’re not funding them, we’re doing it through the clubs grant, and we’re forming this grant process to be as neutral as possible with funding student organization needs.”

Lopez is personally leading the charge for these new clubs grants, which aim to support student organizations like the Asian Desi Pacific Islander Collective and the Women’s Resource Center in a reduced capacity.

One thing that factored into the decision by Associated Students to sever the cultural centers’ funding was the Apodaca v. White lawsuit that took place between a pro-life student organization at CSU San Marcos and CSU San Marcos’s Associated Students. The pro-life student organization claimed that it was being discriminated against by CSU San Marcos because requested funding for a pro-life speaker was denied while other groups were recieiving the same funding. The final ruling by a federal court was in favor of the student organization, arguing that the funds that come from student fees need to be allocated in the most viewpoint neutral way possible. The CSU Chancellor’s office has yet to clarify what this means.

For Lopez, this new funding procedure is radical but also necessary given the circumstances.

“We’re supporting the greatest amount of viewpoints and opinions possible,” Lopez said. “The plan for this club grant is to further diversify the opinions on campus per Apodaca v White and to err on the side of caution while awaiting the Chancellor’s interpretation of Apodaca v White.”

Lopez recognized that he and his staff are working with a limited financial capacity and therefore need to distribute funding in a way that will keep clubs satisfied and avoid a lawsuit of their own.

“What’s happening is we’re being faced with the choice of either becoming a club or becoming absorbed into an administrative or academic department.”

Amanda Huebner

“Our total budget is less than eight hundred thousand dollars,” Lopez said. “Meaning that by not funding in a viewpoint neutral manner, we are potentially risking over a fourth of our budget, a fourth of student fees that could go to things like our Club Grants Committee or that could go to other campus resources if we were to risk not funding in a most neutral way possible.”

Celene Gonzalez is an HSU grad student in the psychology program and an El Centro employee. She has worked closely with the cultural centers and has seen their collective downfall over the years.

“What gives me hope in what I had seen in that time is that students were getting really connected with each other,” Gonzalez said. “They were finding their communities. It is not shocking to me that the school felt the need to kind of push that down a little bit.”

Gonzalez is disheartened by the disconnect that has been formed between her and these students through said budget cuts.

“I feel like our work gave us a way to connect with one another and I feel like our activism gave us a way to connect with one another,” Gonzalez said. “That it’s going to be hard to maintain and it’s going to be hard to ask of them when I know that they aren’t being compensated for that work.”

The Eric Rofes Multicultural Queer Resource Center is getting hit hard by the extreme budget cuts. Concerned about the future of her cultural center, Amanda Huebner, a rangeland and social sciences senior and an employee at the ERC, wants to see it remain in the state that it’s in already.

“What’s happening is we’re being faced with the choice of either becoming a club or becoming absorbed into an administrative or academic department,” Huebner said. “So I think there has been dialogue by students in the past that this would be a bad move being absorbed by a department or by an administrative department because it would make the group not be as student-run.”

In other words, the absorption of the ERC into another department would be ill-advised because there would be more faculty interference in how it would be managed, and that wouldn’t align with the goal of this cultural center of being a student-led one.

Student leaders like Katherine Nguyen who work in the cultural centers are frustrated with the fallout from all of this. Nguyen doesn’t feel like the administration cares about its marginalized students.

“Are you going to be supporting your cultural centers, are you going to be supporting your students?” Nguyen said. “I’m not confident about that and I’m tired of just being told by admin, like: ‘Oh, you got it wrong, like we actually care about you. We’re going to figure out a way,’ but it’s like if you did, why didn’t you make a plan? Show that you’re invested in students.”

When it comes to the shrinking budgets for the various cultural centers, neither the students nor the administration can be totally satisfied. After the Fall 2020 census, the A.S. cumulative budget will be reevaluated.

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