Students speak out against proposed plan for combining cultural and support centers

By Chelsea Whitton

Chelsea Whitton/Collegian

Beginning in fall 2010, University of Massachusetts cultural and support centers will unite under a newly implemented framework to alter the program’s structure.

The consolidation of the programs has taken place under the close monitoring of the administration and Center for Student Development (CSD). It has sparked student and staff concerns for the individuality of each of the eight programs, which are included in the Office of Programs and Services for ALANA (African American, Latino, Asian, Native American) students.

The multicultural support programs will combine under the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, CMASS, which intends to “strengthen the services we provide,” said Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life Byron Bullock, who has been a key member in the planning for the CMASS program.

“There is a need for extreme resources and full-time positions,” said Bullock. The new staff positions will be part of the CMASS program.

Bullock described “a gap” that CMASS will try to bridge, matching the academic retention of ALANA students and those of non-ALANA students. He said that staff shortfalls may have contributed to the statistics.

Bullock explained that these statistics were presented to members of the CMASS committee, and they have spurred the motivation for the program. However, at the time of the press release, these statistics were unable to be found.

In September, the program will “phase in additional staff support and better utilize staff already employed. Budget cuts [caused] programs to suffer, and that pulled away some of the staff that these positions haven’t replaced,” said Bullock.

Some University employees were uncomfortable commenting on the CMASS program, because they had few details on how it would affect them.

Bullock said the support centers are the “heart of the program,” also noting that, “They are to help students navigate through the academic maze.”

There are currently four cultural centers on campus: the Josephine White Eagle Cultural Center, the Latin American Cultural Center (LACC), the Malcolm X Cultural Center and the Yuri Kochiyama Cultural Center.

The four support centers on campus are the Bilingual Collegiate Program (BCP), the Committee for the Collegiate Education of Black and other Minority Students (CCEBMS), Native American Student Services (NASS) and United Asia Learning Resource Center (UALRC).

In order to accommodate the needs of the students and staff in the cultural centers, Bullock, interim program director for ALANA Jacqueline Pinn, and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life Jean Kim, worked with an advisory board of two students from every center. They asked the advisory board for input on how the new program should be constructed.

The plans to move and renovate the inner structure of the support and cultural programs are not without opposition. Last Thursday at noon, Fighting for Unity and Student Enrichment (FUSE) and its supporters gathered on the steps of the student union to protest the impending immersion of the CMASS model.

FUSE students, many multicultural center students and supporters have made the argument that there needs to be a change in the way ALANA and multicultural students are addressed, but disagree on the proposed framework the CMASS program presents for making this happen.

FUSE students argue that two students from each group was not an adequate number to clearly voice the concerns of each center, as well as balance out the needs from a student perspective rather than the administration’s viewpoint.

Emiliano Salazar, who works at the Josephine White Eagle Cultural Center and is part of the student advisory board for CMASS, said during the April 29 protest, “Our goal is to ensure that student input is being listened to by the administration.”

Salazar said that the administration has taken the support centers and put them distant from the center of campus and combined them into one, where the individuality of each program is overlooked.

Currently, the support centers are housed in four separate buildings. The CMASS plan would move the four support programs to Wilder Hall over the summer, said Bullock.

“By putting everyone in one building that signifies that is the only building for them,” said Brittni Reilly, a UMass senior with an individual concentration (BDIC).

The four cultural centers will stay in their designated buildings under the new CMASS program, said Bullock.

Isabel Espinal, who works at the W.E.B. Du Bois Library and is affiliated with BCP, attended the protest in support of more input from students and staff.

“It’s been forced on the directors,” Espinal said. “There has been no input from the actual communities that were involved.”

CMASS is being created to make UMass’ multicultural environment “stronger and better in the long-run,” said Bullock.

Bullock believes FUSE is opposed to the CMASS program to be in place because “there is a miscommunication and also a lack of communication.”

“They’ve worked on the new program for six years. Why aren’t the students being heard?” said Jasmin Torrejon, a student who also attended last Thursday’s protest.

Bullock’s response to why students would oppose CMASS if it aimed to strengthen already existing programs was, “I think that people don’t always deal with change in positive ways.”

Bullock has been working on the CMASS program since 2006 and said, “We were ready to move on this program years ago.”

“What added fuel to the process was the economy,” continued Bullock. “We had to take the best possible means to look at how to strengthen the sources and student need.”

Jeff Munoz, a UMass junior in the BCP said, “As for keeping us in the loop, they [CMASS directors] haven’t done so.” Many other students involved with the cultural centers claimed to be unaware of the CMASS program and its proposed effects on the campus community.

FUSE member Jenifer Martinez added, “They’re not too sure about details of the plans.”

BCP Director Wilma Crespo declined to comment on the impending CMASS program and its effect on the BCP. But Espinal said that the BCP staff feels that the CMASS program will not entirely serve the needs of the program.

UMass student and BCP staff Chaiana Nunez said, “There is a need for programs like [the BCP]. It’s working.”

Bullock said the student development center is planning to work with admissions to create more diversity. “I’ve been a student advocate all my life,” said Bullock. He explained the CMASS program is, “a shift in focus,” and a “hope for cross-cultural boundaries.”

However, some students disagree that the CSD is following through on its goals of reaching UMass students’ needs.

“This is a continuing example of the administration refusing to take needs of students into consideration,” said Andy Berg, a supporter of FUSE and a UMass senior.

Bullock explained his confidence of the program succeeding in unifying students and keeping each center’s individuality. “I have taken a critical four-year look at strengthening services.” Bullock added, “Jean Kim thought it was time to move forward with the plan.”

Supporters of FUSE hope that if the group’s petition against the program – available in paper and online forms – has enough signatures once handed to Kim, plans for CMASS could change and be delayed due to a strong enough voice of opposition.

“They want to see delay in the model to meet their needs,” said Bullock.

The FUSE petition website says that the programs have assisted in the needs of over 3,000 students over the years. FUSE’s goal is that the ongoing petition will have 1,000 online signatures. Once FUSE feels they have enough signatures, they will present the petition to Kim.

Plans are still underway for CMASS, and Bullock says that the program’s anticipated launch date in September will be “highly likely.”

Chelsea Whitton can be reached at [email protected].