Cultural centers give U community identity

On February 2, five students filed a suit against the Board of Regents challenging the University’s mandatory Student Services Fee. The plaintiffs claim that the use of their fees to fund student organizations that advocate certain political, ideological, and/or religious beliefs violates their constitutional rights. In the lawsuit, three student organizations funded by student fees are accused of such advocacy: the Queer Student Cultural Center (QSCC), La Raza Student Cultural Center (RSCC) and University-Young Women (U-YW).
These three centers are described as private organizations in the suit. This definition is central to the plaintiff’s argument and completely false. The student cultural centers are public in nature, and any student on campus who wishes may participate and be a member without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status or sexual orientation.
In a public statement released the same date the suit was filed, Matt Curry alleged, on behalf of the plaintiffs, that U-YW, RSCC and QSCC “embrace the abortion movement, champion the homosexual lifestyle and support the Communist regime in Cuba.” The allegations compel us to find out whether they are true, and what positions the centers are really taking.
First, none of the student cultural centers officially advocate for or against abortion rights. Second, all student cultural centers recognize the right to equality of all human beings regardless of their sexual orientation in accord with the Equal Opportunity Statement of the University. And third, none of the centers advocate a particular political ideology.
The purpose of a student cultural center is to achieve, through cultural programs and events, a greater historical, political and cultural awareness in the communities they serve, within and outside the University. The centers mentioned in the lawsuit have hosted and supported activities related to abortion issues, discrimination based on gender and/or sexual orientation and alternative political and ideological viewpoints. These activities are essential to promoting a broad understanding of the university community.
I object to the legal argument on two grounds. First, the plaintiffs have not exhausted the non-judicial methods already in place in their objection to fees allocation. The Student Services Fees Committee, an elected student body, make recommendations to the Board of Regents about which student organizations and what amounts are to be allocated from student fees. Matt Curry served “tirelessly” in the Student Services Fees Committee for three consecutive years, yet he never amassed enough support to deny allocation of moneys to any of the organizations mentioned in the lawsuit. The pretext to file a lawsuit contradicts the plaintiffs’ allegation that “countless other students have objected” to pay student fees that fund “objectionable” student organizations. If this was true, it seems more students would have been elected to the fees committee to represent the plaintiffs’ interests.
Second, the interest served by dismantling the current student fees allocation process is comparatively minute to the interests served by the centers to the student community at large. The students seek a declaratory relief, stating that U-YW, RSCC and QSCC “engage in political and/or ideological advocacy,” and that, therefore, the mandatory Student Services Fee is unconstitutional. Such a statement would render the cultural centers incapable of operating as they have until now, thus prohibiting the full enjoyment of all the benefits diversity brings to our campus.
The prospect of a decision for the plaintiffs is antagonistic to the spirit of our campus community and our common aim to make this University a safe place to learn for everyone. The groups each center represents would find themselves without a place in which they can identify culturally. The vacuum of ideas to follow would denigrate our learning experience and promote ignorance about these groups among the student community in general.
The student cultural centers, as channels of public expression for historically oppressed and marginalized groups in society, have the right to express the prevalent viewpoints of their respective memberships without fear of prosecution or punishment. To negate this fundamental right threatens our freedom, and takes us a step closer to despotism. We will not remain silent about any allegations, declarations or actions threatening to suppress our freedom of speech and association.
More than 25 years ago, students had to rally around Northrop Mall to demand the rights to equal opportunity and representation at the University. We will not hesitate to do it again, along with all the students who support diversity on campus, if our capacity to represent and promote diversity on campus is threatened. There will be a rally in front of the Administration Building on Northrop Mall — Thursday, March 12 at noon.
All are invited.

Rafael Antonio Ortiz is a senior in Political Science