Multicultural centers decry budget cuts

Cultural centers demanded procedural changes to their funding application process.

by Logan Carroll

Some University of Minnesota student cultural centers are petitioning to change funding application processes after student committee members cut their budgets and made insensitive remarks at meetings.
After presentations to the Student Services Fees Committee, some cultural centers are facing cuts of more than 60 percent, according to SSFC documents. Total funding for all student and administrative groups remains relatively unchanged from last year.
Twenty-two cultural centers have signed a letter demanding increased transparency, procedural changes and the creation of a separate committee for funding cultural centers.
As of Tuesday evening, the demand letter had yet to receive a response, said Emily Horton, the Feminist Student Activist Collective’s staff adviser.
The Feminist Student Activist Collective is also facing cuts — 53 percent, according to documents.
The Asian-American Student Union was one of the hardest-hit centers, with a 64 percent cut.
Of the groups that both signed the letter and received funds in the past, only La Raza Student Cultural Center is anticipating a rise in funding, documents show.
“Our funding is up next year, but it’s still historically low,” said Evert Escobar, a La Raza officer.
La Raza’s funding is expected to be at its lowest in more than a decade, not counting last year, according to documents.
Escobar said the group signed the letter out of solidarity.
“I think the SSFC has to be trained in the cultural value that comes from the student groups,” said Ken Gonzales, the advocacy chair for the Asian-American Student Union and a senior majoring in African-American and African studies.
Funding recommendations are passed to the Board of Regents, said SSFC Committee Chair for Student Groups Viswa Challa in an email. He said the board has “historically adhered very closely to the recommendations.”
Horton said although budget cuts are a concern, the entire fees process is clunky and confusing.
“There’s not a lot of transparency and not a lot of accountability,” she said.
One of the biggest concerns, according to Horton, is the penalty system. She said applicants must obey strict formatting rules. If there’s a mistake, a percentage of funds can be denied, she said.
Oftentimes, the committee doesn’t provide explanations, and groups have only one minute at a public hearing to appeal the decision, she said.
The SSFC handbook has a section explaining how to fill out the application form but doesn’t list penalties. Challa said in an email that because the SSFC is student-run, penalties can change each year, which allows the penalties be prioritized by current University students.
“The process is complex and expansive,” Challa said in an email but added that students can request any information.
Including administrative and student groups, the SSFC allocated $33.4 million for next year, according to documents.
“Students spend countless weekends deliberating,” said Danita Brown Young, the vice provost for student affairs, “I commend them for working tirelessly.”
However, Gonzales said SSFC members have made “culturally insensitive” comments at hearings. Brown Young said implicit bias training is planned for next year’s SSFC members.
Horton said the cultural centers are a second home to members.
“They’re the one place on campus where they can be themselves,” she said.