Board of Directors and work group discuss black student center feasibility


Three ASI Board of Directors representatives from left to right: Yasmin Doroteo, Josh Maffei and Carlos Morales. Photo by Rhealynn Ravarra

Katlin Sweeney, Editor-in-Chief

CSUSM President Karen Haynes has responded to Black Student Union concerns raised last fall by charging a work group with developing a plan for a Black Student Center at CSUSM.

In a campus-wide email Wednesday, Dec. 2, Haynes reflected on progress on diversity, including creation of [email protected] Student Center  at CSUSM, and said that the next step for the campus is to research the feasibility of a Black Student Center. Following suggestions by Black Student Union at an Oct. 1 forum, Haynes created a work group for the task.

In a related matter, an ASI resolution of support for the center sparked a heated debate at a Feb. 19 board meeting and prompted the resignation of ASI board member Joshua Maffei afterwards.

The work group, which is chaired by Associate Vice President of Student Academic Support Services, Dr. Dang Chonwerawong, includes representatives of the African American Faculty Staff Association, Black Student Union, Office of Diversity, Educational Equity, Inclusion and Ombuds Services, Associated Students, Inc., faculty and the University Budget Office.

In a Feb. 22 interview, Chonwerawong said the work group has met twice and will meet four more times before May 1 when it expects to deliver a proposal for the center to Haynes.

“Our job is to identify the ideal amount of space we are going to need for this center,” she said. “We are going to research what kind of features this space may need like offices, meeting rooms and study rooms. From there, we will figure out if we have an existing space for these needs.”

Chonwerawong said if they have a rough draft of a plan by April, there may be a chance to hold a forum for student, faculty and staff input on this “high stakes” issue.

“Some people are concerned that every group needs a ‘safe space,’” she said. “I would ask them to think about if every group in the U.S. faces the same systematic discrimination and oppression equally … We [as people of color] do not have the same history or face the same obstacles [as the majority].

“Statistics and research show us that there are certain groups of people in the U.S. that are underrepresented and have less opportunities than others do in education,” she said.

Chonwerawong, who is Thai, said that she sees the Black Student Center as a place where students can feel brave enough to challenge the status quo and talk about inequality. This vision is similar to that of students, faculty and staff at the Feb. 19 ASI Board of Directors meeting on Friday, Feb. 19. where a resolution of support for the center passed 11-1.

Some of the more than 40 attendees at the meeting spoke in support for the resolution, including Ariel Stevenson, Administrative Coordinator for the Office of Diversity and Karen GuzmXn, student advocate for CFA and Feminists Unite.

Black Student Union member Brandy Williams said, “ASI speaks for the students and the people,” she said. “They need to recognize this need for a center. [The resolution] should be pushed through.”

The debate over the resolution largely concerned the wording of the first clause, which read: “The United States built its great wealth and power by the settler society’s forced extraction of land, resources and labor from the two most underrepresented groups; American Indians and enslaved Africans.”

In both the Feb. 12 Student Advocacy Meeting and Feb. 19 Board of Directors meeting, ASI leaders debated whether or not this first clause should be moved down in the body of the resolution or removed altogether.

The President of the African American Faculty Staff Association Dr. Geoffrey Gilmore said that the clause should be kept.

“On behalf of our organization, we support the resolution, including the first clause, in its entirety,” he said.

ASI College of Business Representative Joshua Maffei voted against the resolution.

“We cannot pass a resolution that supports any center based on race,” he said at the Feb. 19 meeting. “In the first clause … it is not a myth that we enslaved Africans to work in the United States, but it is a myth that slavery helped make America wealthy and powerful and great.”

Black Student Union President Daniesha Thornton, who was in the audience, replied saying that she wanted Maffei removed from his position due to his comments on slavery.

“I am an African American woman and my ancestors were slaves who built this nation,” she said. “… My people died, were mutilated and raped and then you say it was for nothing.”
Near the end of the meeting, Maffei addressed his fellow board members and resigned.

Students, faculty and staff suggestions are encouraged to be sent to Dr. Chonwerawong at [email protected].

The Cougar Chronicle The independent student news site of California