‘We feel like we lost a key voice’

Following the departure of several University staff members, Asian and Pacific Islander students say they want answers.

Tao Vang displays a sign as Ken Gonzalez gives a speech outside Coffman Memorial Union on Monday where students rallied to ask for fuller engagement and inclusiveness of Hmong, Southeast Asian, and Asian American communities at the University.

Sam Harper

Tao Vang displays a sign as Ken Gonzalez gives a speech outside Coffman Memorial Union on Monday where students rallied to ask for fuller engagement and inclusiveness of Hmong, Southeast Asian, and Asian American communities at the University.

About 20 University of Minnesota students rallied outside Coffman Union on Monday afternoon to demand equal representation for Asian students in parts of the administration following a wave of changes in a school multicultural center.
 
The group, Asian and Pacific Islanders for Equity and Diversity, is demanding that the Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence and the Office for Equity and Diversity be more transparent and better reflect the Asian student body. 
 
Members are upset that some MCAE employees left during restructuring this summer, although school administrators say they can’t legally discuss the 
changes.
 
APIs for Equity and Diversity, which is composed of Hmong, Southeast-Asian and Asian-American students, formed after several administrators who had led Asian and Hmong initiatives at the University left during the restructuring.
 
Besides more transparency from OED on issues affecting Hmong, Southeast-Asian and Asian-American students, the group’s demands include more faculty and staff members who are Asian or Pacific Islander.
 
Protesters shouted, “Juavah isn’t the first. He won’t be the last,” in reference to Juavah Lee, MCAE’s former assistant director of engagement and pre-collegiate initiatives, who left this summer.
 
Ken Gonzales, a history senior and one of the group’s leaders, said the group wants answers for Lee’s departure.
 
Lee was up for a contract renewal in June, Gonzales said, and soon after was fired from his job.
 
“We feel like we lost a key voice,” Gonzales said.
 
Shakeer Abdullah, OED assistant vice president, said MCAE’s leadership changes over the summer upset many people.
 
“From what I understand, people are disappointed that the staff they really appreciated are no longer here,” he said.
 
Abdullah said he hasn’t been able to disclose information about staff layoffs and restructuring due to legal restraints.
 
“I’ve shared with students that we are not legally able to talk about staff transitions or anything like that,” he said.
 
Members of APIs for Equity and Diversity said they aren’t satisfied with the response they’ve received and fear more staff will leave without explanation. 
 
The group also wants OED to be held more financially accountable and the Asian American Studies program to be expanded to become a full department within the next academic year.
 
Abdullah had planned to hold a presentation in Coffman Union to explain a new MCAE initiative, and APIs for Equity and Diversity intentionally staged its half-hour rally before this event, said Abeer Syedah, vice president of the Minnesota Student Association and student representative at MCAE. 
 
Syedah said she wasn’t sure what the restructuring entailed, but she said it involved many MCAE staff and administrators leaving their positions.
 
“What I do know is that [Lee’s] departure was not optional,” she said. “His departure was not his own doing.”