Students Speak

A Students Speak forum on Tuesday focused on planning and agenda setting because administrators declined to attend the meeting. The organization formed to counter a $1 million proposed cut to ethnic and identity studies centers such as the Center for Mexican American Studies. The student group met Tuesday with more than 100 students and community members, with the goal of creating a working foundation for what they will press the administration to do in regards to the ethnic centers and how they will go about getting their demands met. At the meeting, the group created a list of demands in addition to eliminating the proposed budget cuts. The list includes more direct communication between the administration and students and a more democratic university. Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl said he will continue to meet with registered student organizations for their input about the budget cut proposal. This excludes Students Speak because they have decided not to become a university-registered group. A registered student organization must have at least three officers, including a president and vice president, which Students Speak is opposed to, said Tatiana Young, a women’s and gender studies graduate student. Young said they are trying to maintain a space where everyone has an equal voice that is “mutually respected” by all members. She also said the group wants to have complete freedom of speech and registering would limit that. “You can’t hold [the administration’s] feet to the fire if you get registered,” Young told The Texan on Monday. “It forces you to their hierarchal structure and determines how and what you can say.” Recent contention within Students Speak stems from a flier that members of the Chicano activist group and Students Speak supporters Ella Pelea made. The flier depicts Diehl and President William Powers Jr. in Ku Klux Klan robes. Ella Pelea distributed it without permission from other Students Speak members. Latin American studies senior Carina Souflee, spokeswoman for the Students Speak, told those with concerns about dissension within the group that the members’ array of opinions makes the organization unique. “The beauty of Students Speak is that there is a diversity of opinion in the room, and we don’t come together to try to prove each other wrong or right,” Souflee said. “We are working together to form a movement.” The group decided to be active in influencing the administration by hosting large flash mobs, lobbying and marching to the Capitol, and by creating a testimonial video of students directly affected by the ethnic centers. Former UT Latin American Studies student Candace Lopez added “respect, space, and integrity” to Students Speak’s proposed list of demands because she believes all three would be lost with budget cuts. “You need respect as a student who deserves the right to learn and explore your history, space to do that constructively and integrity because when you start slashing marginalized programs you lose integrity as a university that alleges to be a progressive institution,” she said.

Ethnic studies centers and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies may fall under the swinging axe of University budget cuts, and members of a new student organization called The Students Speak said they will do whatever it takes to fight back. The College of Liberal Arts announced last week that under a recommendation from the Academic Planning and Advisory Council, 15 centers and institutes stand to lose a combined $1 million, with the centers for African and African American, Mexican American and Middle Eastern studies taking the largest hit. In response, members of Chicano advocacy group MEChA organized the first Students Speak meeting Tuesday night with about 50 students from different area studies majors, as well as Student Government representatives and other interested students. They said they hope that through protests, education and working with student leaders and the administration, they can reduce cuts they say could irreparably harm the education of students who use the centers for classes, research, programs and organizational support. “I started school at Brown, and I transferred here because of the Center for Mexican American Studies,” said Diana Gomez, a Mexican American studies senior. “We’ve agreed that this organization needs to be a student initiative because we’re in these courses and these centers, and we’ll fight to keep them in place.” The $1 million dollars is part of $3.5 million that the dean’s advisory council must identify for cuts to fill an unexpected shortfall in money received from tuition. That money was used to fill other budgetary holes in response to cuts ordered by legislative leaders. Other plans include cutting faculty by offering early retirement packages and leaving vacant positions unfilled. The College of Liberal Arts will not be out of deficit until the 2014-15 school year, according to projections from the advisory council. Richard Flores, the senior associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts, attended the Liberal Arts Council meeting Tuesday night and gave a presentation to explain the metrics used to determine cuts for each center, including how they use the funding they have and how many students major in programs related to the centers. Although the original recommendations included no student input, Flores said College of Liberal Arts Dean Randy Diehl and other administrators hope to meet with students, faculty and staff from each center to get input on the possible effects of the cuts. “We’re pulled in two directions. One is we want to hear and consult broadly, but on the other hand, center directors need to start making decisions,” Flores said. The Students Speak members left their meeting to attend the Liberal Arts Council meeting, and they said it was the first time they had access to the information Flores presented. There was some confusion because the council members said their meetings are not a forum open to all Liberal Arts students. “We were left out of the process, and it’s not until tonight that we managed to finagle our way into this [council] meeting and see some of the metrics they used to make these cuts,” said Mexican American studies senior Bernardino Villasenor. “In slashing these programs, they’re slashing our cultures and identities, too.” Liberal Arts Council President Carl Thorne-Thomsen said he wants to work with SG to plan open forums so students can get involved in future conversations about Liberal Arts cuts. In addition, the Senate of College Councils expects to launch the College Tuition and Budget Advisory Council for liberal arts before the semester ends, providing a direct link between the administration and students in the college.