Author: Melina Devoney
Following a student body vote two weeks ago, the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) will now be funded through a $10 per semester student body fee increase, Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) President Theophilus Savini (senior) announced via email March 28.
According to DEB Club Liaison Abhilasha Bhola (senior), DEB’s proposal passed with exceptional support: 440 students in favor and 94 against. To pass, the proposal required a two-thirds majority of votes in favor from at least 20 percent of the student body.
“This is a really big win for students to be able to decide how their money is spent and where it goes to,” Bhola said. “I really encourage everyone to come to DEB, find out more about who we are and try to get funding.”
DEB is a student board with the mission of encouraging campus groups and offices to uphold Occidental’s mission as well as fund student diversity initiatives, according to Bhola.
“Now that DEB has funding, they have agency and legitimacy,” Savini said via email.
DEB was established spring 2015, but supporters struggled to acquire funding when Honor Board ruled against DEB’s proposed student body fee increase. After students voted March 4 to approve ASOC constitutional amendments, which included allowing student body fee increases through student vote, Senate voted unanimously March 14 to approve DEB’s proposal to put a student body fee increase for DEB to a student vote. DEB’s funding proposal outlined the fee increase would provide approximately $40,000 per year.
According to Savini, the constitution change has not elicited any negative feedback. He said that members of ASOC branches had opportunities to comment as changes were made.
“I think if people had anything to say about it, they had a number of platforms to choose from to state their opinion,” Savini said via email.
Chief Diversity Officer and Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Rhonda Brown said that additional student body fees could have potentially been avoided if DEB was initially funded when it became a branch of ASOC.
“When DEB was created to be an arm, the funding should have naturally occurred with it,” Brown said.
Instead, a vote had to be put forward to increase student body fees. Brown said that the vote posed the question to students whether they thought DEB was valuable enough to be funded, and the student body answered yes.
“That’s democracy, and I’m happy for it,” Brown said.
Bhola attributed the delayed procurement of funding to the previous constitution’s requirement that Honor Board approve any increase to student body fees, which she said was an incredibly difficult process.
According to Honor Board Chair Kara Alam (junior)*, who was on Honor Board last spring, the board supported allocating funds for DEB, but had concerns over systems of accountability in the proposal. Fall 2014 Honor Board Chair Ian Hutchcroft (senior), outlined four key ways to judge a fee increase proposal’s merits: if the proposal necessitates an increase in student fees, if it merits independent funding, if the proposed change will benefit the majority of the student body and if there is adequate oversight of the funds.
Over the course of the academic year, Honor Board members judged that the DEB proposal did not meet these requirements on three separate occasions.
“When the proposal appeared to Honor Board the first time, we wanted to investigate other avenues to fund the Board without imposing a student body fee on students that would burden them with the initial operations of starting a new Board,” Alam said via email. “The second round was voted down because we thought there was a way to allocate funds to DEB through the Senate Savings Account.”
Honor Board reasoned that other channels could fully fund DEB and voted down the proposal a third time spring 2015.
Bhola said that last fall DEB emphasized the importance of the student body having the authority to vote on increasing student body fees.
DEB members wanted funding to come from a student body fee increase in order to give students full autonomy over how and where the money is spent, Bhola said. The members also would have preferred to have received more support from the administration in supplementing DEB funds in the initial funding process, according to Bhola.
The proposal DEB presented to Senate outlined that the board will allocate 80 percent to external programming requests and 10 percent to both DEB-initiated programming and organizational costs.
DEB’s external programming budget will be available upon request to students initiating programs without the structure of a club, as well as to faculty, cultural and other student organizations, according to Brown.
Brown gave DEB $3,000 in interim funding to kick-start project requests, according to Senate’s Feb. 21 minutes.
DEB has used this money to help fund a Gaypril workshop “Organizing at the Intersection of Black Lives Matter and Gender Justice,” a series of events hosted by Students for Justice in Palestine and the Black Students Alliance about border issues and transnational coalition building and bringing Bhangra dancers to campus for the Holi celebration hosted Sunday by the South Asian Students Association.
According to Bhola, DEB currently has just over $1,000 dollars left from Brown’s funding, and DEB members hope that more people will request to use their remaining funds before the end of the year.
Coalition at Oxy for Diversity and Equity (CODE) core mentee Lindsey Ingram (first year) said that one reason she voted to fund DEB was because it would provide a consistent source of funding each semester for cultural clubs and groups on campus. According to Ingram, CODE as a whole supported funding DEB.
“We want to make sure that all marginalized groups on campus are represented on campus,” Ingram said. “By giving DEB funding, it will make sure that they are represented but also that they are able to do things for the people that they represent.”
As for next year, Bhola said that DEB is looking to help cultural clubs bring more prominent speakers to campus and host more events, as well as relieve some pressure from clubs to fundraise and request funding from multiple offices on campus.
Bhola does foresee potential challenges with other organizations relying too heavily on DEB’s new funding abilities.
“A really big challenge is making sure that cultural clubs still get the same level of support from the student Senate and other offices and groups on campus when it comes to fundraising,” Bhola said. “This is just supplementary to take the pressure off — this isn’t meant to cover the whole amount of the program or event.”
Brown said that she is worried that other departments might redirect students looking for funding to DEB without providing funds of their own. Although students organizing small diversity projects may find that DEB streamlines the process of applying for funding, DEB will not be able to fully fund larger projects. Consequently, organizers would still need additional funding sources.
Brown said she was confident that DEB will remain dedicated to its greater goal of both monitoring and augmenting diversity efforts on campus.
“Funding is important,” Brown said. “But there is other work that we need to identify.”
Savini said ASOC is working on finding creative and efficient ways to streamline funding between Senate, DEB and the Renewable Energy and Sustainability Fund, which all operate on their own budgets. Regardless of the technical challenges that may follow DEB funding, Savini said the vote to fund DEB already represents a great accomplishment.
“This speaks to a larger picture of the dedication and effort that people committed to diversity and equity put into their work,” Savini said via email. “But it also speaks to the larger issue of the strain that we put on students who dedicate their time to these causes. Is it fair? No. But I will say that the resiliency I see on this campus is admirable.”
*Alam is a Weekly staff member; she was not on staff spring 2015.
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