When students from the Pan Asian Council were told they couldn’t table in front of the Robert L. Nugent building, they were taken aback by the sudden news. They received notice from their adviser over the summer that they would not be allowed to table in front of the building with no further explanation.
“It just felt like a disregard because these are decisions that affect our communities and we weren’t involved in these kinds of decisions or thoroughly informed,” said Victoria Santos, vice president of the Pan Asian Council. “A lot of student [organizations] felt kind of in the dark about what we're allowed to do with our own space.”
Students were confused and felt disrespected by the news since tabling had been such a big part of the club’s tradition and was essential for fundraising and promoting their club.
This breakdown in communication points to a much bigger problem the university has with cultural organizations all over campus.
The university’s investment in cultural centers was low pre-pandemic, but the issue was exacerbated by COVID-19 when many programs’ funding was cut even more, which hit cultural centers on campus especially hard.
“What I see is the university's biggest mission is diversity,” said Lady Elli, the president of the Pan Asian Council. “They have it in their mission statements and inclusion, but we are severely underfunded. So what does that mean? That means that you want to know diversity, equity and inclusion if it benefits you most.”
The Pan Asian Coalition
The table ban birthed the Pan Asian Coalition, which focuses solely on holding administrators accountable and advocating for resources, whereas the Pan Asian Council’s goal is to unite an umbrella of student organizations and promote inclusion and collaboration.
The Pan Asian Coalition wrote a letter to administrators with three main demands after they learned they would no longer be able to table in front of the Nugent building:
1) To reevaluate the tabling policies immediately and consider resource allocation for cultural student organizations.
2) To allow Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American student organizations to be involved in the decision making processes that affect them and the Asian Pacific American Student Affairs.
3) To include cultural student organizations regarding decisions affecting their funding, spaces and any other resources.
“This letter is not just about the tabling issue that happened in front of Nugent,” Elli said. “It gave rise to a lot of issues that we are currently discussing as a council.”
The Pan Asian Council shares a small, borrowed space with Native American Student Affairs despite repeated requests for a bigger space. One club that falls under the council, the Philippine American Student Association, has meetings where about 70 students attend and the borrowed space simply isn’t enough.
The coalition asks for more space, more funding for advisors and a centralized location for cultural centers so students from different populations can be in solidarity with one another, according to Elli.
Students also requested access to a full kitchen and free equipment rentals for events and fundraisers. Most importantly, they asked for a voice on the administrative level.
“There are a lot of decisions that are made at the administrative level that we don't feel involved in and don't feel benefit us as a community,” Santos said. “It shed light on more things that we've been struggling with, in terms of not having enough resources and not having a proper space.”
“A breakdown in trust”
Maribel Alvarez, the interim vice provost for Diversity and Inclusion, along with the Associate Dean of Students Sylvester Gaskin, got in touch with the coalition earlier this semester to break down the letter and reform it so it gets into the right hands.
Alvarez explains that the tabling policy is a generic regulation for safety on campus in regards to serving food and blocking exit and entry in front of the building. She adds that the policy has been revised and the students will have access to the space.
“We probably could have had better communication and consultation with the students before some of those changes,” Alvarez said. “But for [administration], this doesn't rise to the level of a crisis. For us it rises to an administrative problem that we need to only understand the guidelines, work out a pathway for how people will get clarity and communication and then [mitigate] any sort of impact that it has.”
But it is so much more than an administrative problem for the coalition; it is the consistent removal of their voice from decisions that directly impact their community.
“I'm a student. I don't get paid for the work that I'm doing right now,” Elli said. “I spend hours and hours each week, not just me, but all student leaders involved in the coalition, doing research, sending emails, making sure everything is set and organized and making sure everything makes sense for everyone. When I'm just supposed to be here to study, go to school, whatever, but it's like, the system's against me, so I have to be against it.”
Alvarez and Gaskin will continue to work with the coalition to find solutions, but it is unlikely they will solve any of the structural issues cultural centers across campus face.
“That's what happens when trust breaks down,” Alvarez said. “One little thing can become larger, and larger things can get confused with small things. To me, the diagnosis is a breakdown in trust and we need to repair that.”
APIDA Heritage Week
Monday, April 25 through Friday, April 29 are packed with events meant to celebrate Asian, Pacific Islander and Desi American students. It was made possible through multiple sponsors, including the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Wildcat Events Board, APASA and the Arizona Ambassadors Tour Guides.
On Monday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. there will be a club fair where APASA will be handing out free boba. Clubs will be sharing their culture and recruiting new members. Some clubs include the Asian American Cultural Association, the Chinese Student Association, the Vietnamese Student Association and many more.
On Tuesday, the APIDA community will hold an Asian cuisine potluck and games on the UA Mall for students to participate in.
Thursday is an especially busy day with events on the Mall from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Students will be able to paint with friends, speak up about their experience as a part of the APIDA community, map their origins and create Rangoli art–an ancient Hindu art form from India. In the afternoon from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., APIDA partners with AZ Ambassadors to discuss “Supporting APIDA,” a conversation about APIDA joy, the #StopAsianHate movement and APIDA resources on campus. They will also premiere “Asian and American,” an APIDA student video.
The week will end with APIDA dance performances and a movie night screening of Moana. Dance performances will include Blue, a boy dance group; Dia Clones, a hip-hop and urban dance; Om Shanti, a Bollywood and hip-hop dance group and UnderSkore, a K-pop dance team.
APIDA is currently looking for more volunteers to participate in the events. More information about volunteer positions and the week’s events can be found on the ASUA Instagram here.
“Students [are] here to study. [We’re] here to finish with a degree, not to go against the system,” Elli said. “But, I'm here for that because I'm not just here to study when literally people who look like me and other communities like the black community, the indigenous community have literally been insulted multiple times by people who hold such high authority. I'm not going to give up and we're going to keep continuing this fight. We're going to keep holding people accountable until they do something.”
Elli called on members of the community to show their support for the coalition.
“Fund us, support us and I'm just not saying the Pan Asian Coalition. I'm saying all coalitions, Elli said. "Listen to us, follow us on social media, support us, be present in our meetings, come to the events that we [worked so hard to] organize.”
Follow Susan Barnett on Twitter