The ASUC has failed to meet the needs of its constituents. At this point, it should be clear that the bridges Multicultural Resource Center and the Queer Alliance Resource Center, or QARC, deserve more space than what is currently allocated to them. Both bridges and QARC have very successfully made their needs thunderously clear, and virtually everyone in a position of so-called “power” — from elected officials, to the ASUC Student Union Board, to representatives of the administration — has expressed support for the Fight4Spaces movement to varying degrees.
Why, then, does this conflict persist, especially in the extremely public way that it has? Why, over two weeks since the protests began, has no semblance of compromise been reached? And most importantly, how is it that the ASUC, a purportedly democratic organization, has failed to adequately address what seems like a simple problem for a group of organized students in clear need?
Firstly, the timing of this protest is frustratingly inefficient. The Lower Sproul Redevelopment Project did not officially finish until last January, meaning that by this semester, everything in Eshleman Hall and the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union was supposed to be running smoothly. Theoretically, any time in the previous five years — when spaces were being planned, built and assigned, and reallocation of space would not have required spending money or moving physical objects — would have been preferable to address this issue. So why were bridges and QARC assigned inadequate spaces in the first place?
These spaces were assigned with the consent of the then-leaders of both groups. Eshleman was designed to be a collaborative space; it was purposely built such that its spaces are open, and private, partitioned offices and rooms were kept to a minimum. Both bridges and QARC, however, asked for their own self-contained spaces, citing privacy concerns. QARC, in particular, was wary of a series of homophobic incidents and wanted a space that would allow students to explore their identities without fear of external attention. The basement — out of the way and more hidden from potentially malicious eyes — was selected as the location that would best serve this need.
Now, of course, both groups want spaces that are explicitly visible. The nature of both groups, especially QARC, has changed in the intervening five years, and their underlying goals and needs have accordingly changed as well. What once functioned as more of a “safe space” of the type decried by Fox News is now an important and visible symbol representing the validity of underrepresented students and their right to have their needs served. The now-inappropriate space allocation, therefore, was less a function of willful suppression of underserved students and more an accident caused by the nature of the passage of time.
The next point where this could have been easily solved was during the move-in to Eshleman last year — and this reflects a failure on the part of the ASUC. Leaders from bridges and QARC did in fact approach the office of Executive Vice President Lavanya Jawaharlal (which managed the move-in process) to express their concerns and were told to wait until the move-in process was complete, this semester.
In fairness, bridges and QARC were not the only groups whose concerns were rejected, and the EVP was under extreme pressure from administration and the Student Union to keep everything according to plan until the move-in was complete. This is, in the end, irrelevant; ignoring the requests of your constituents, even temporarily, is unequivocally wrong. It is clear that both bridges and QARC felt so dismissed that they took drastic action, meaning that the then-EVP is guilty of, at the very least, bad politicking.
This brings us to the present. Bridges and QARC are demanding the Student Store and the fifth floor of Eshleman, respectively. Such a proposal, unfortunately, is just not going to happen.
The financial cost of reallocating the student store is hilariously prohibitive — it would likely end up costing over $1 million, which is more than half the annual operating budget of the ASUC. Additionally, it would threaten the viability of the store itself, which represents one of the most significant sources of revenue for the ASUC. The notion of supporting students of color over profits is rhetorically compelling but fails to recognize the reality that these profits head back to supporting students. It’s not as though profits from the store are lining ASUC President Will Morrow’s pockets while he laughs maniacally at the plight of bridges. Reallocating the fifth floor of Eshleman does not represent the loss of a revenue-generating venture, but would require extensive and expensive renovations that would end up being more symbolic than practical, to the detriment of the student body as a whole.
The elected officials of the ASUC are officials at-large — that is, they do not represent any specific geographic district, so each of them has a responsibility to represent every member of the student body. This means that each of them has a responsibility to meet the needs of bridges and QARC, but the sword cuts both ways — it is against their electoral mandate to so harshly prioritize the needs of two relatively small groups, regardless of how necessary and important those needs are, or the personal feelings of any individual official.
Jake Fineman writes the Monday column on the ASUC. Contact him at [email protected].