ASCWU Holds Open Forum to Discuss Center for Cultural Innovation

Morgana Carroll, Staff Reporter

A Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) Open Forum was held so ASCWU can inform students there is a push for getting the project funded, what the previous issues have been and answer any questions students had regarding the project.

The CCI is a project that has been ongoing for ten years to establish a building for minority students, acting as a space for them and including services for needs not currently being met at CWU, according to ASCWU.

The ASCWU executive board focused heavily on the CCI last year, but it fell through due to the transition to a new CWU President. The current ASCWU board is picking up the project again by working with President Wohlpart, continuing this dialogue with administration and rallying student engagement through open forums. 

The meeting filled all the seats in the SURC Pit and even had some people standing. All five members of the ASCWU board were in attendance, and multiple members of the audience asked questions. 

One of the questions about the needs the CCI would provide. The CCI would provide a properly equipped kitchen so that students could cook cultural foods, a conference room, a worship room for all faiths and dedicated space for identity based student organizations. The panelists said that the basis of these needs were volunteered by the students coordinating the project and student advocates of the past, and that they had these ideas from issues that they have faced on campus and things they have observed.

The meeting discussed what happened at the final three meetings of fall quarter, which consisted of a brief history of the CCI and the coordinators’ pushes to get that space.

According to Director of Equity and Multicultural Affairs Mariah Minjarez, the discussion for the CCI has been happening for a decade but really only gained traction in 2017 when at the time ASCWU President Armando Ortiz met with the university president. 

The CCI was mentioned in previous discussions in 2018 and 2019 to include it in the planned campus expansion, including possibly having it in the SURC expansion plan. However, the plan was eventually canceled according to Minjarez. 

Last year, ASCWU President Mickael Candelaria began discussing the possibility of renovating the old heat building into the CCI with previous CWU President James Gaudino, but these plans fell through when the university transitioned between presidents. The panelists said plans to utilize the old heat building are no longer being considered due to the building being too far removed from parts of the campus and accessibility. 

The meeting also contained information about location, square footage, price and how that monetary goal could be achieved. Director of Government Affairs Edgar Espino talked about the legal processes required to get that funding from legislation. 

ASCWU has been trying to get funding through the state, but those efforts have been met with pushback. 

“In the eyes of the legislature, they view higher education more as buildings where students go in and professors teach students,” Espino said. “They don’t really consider spaces that students use.”

The other way that the building might be funded is through student fees or tuition, however the ASCWU panelists said that CWU students already pay the highest fees in the state, so they don’t want to use that method.

The panelists said that another issue facing the development of the CCI comes from the administration. The panelists said some have voiced concerns that the Diversity and Equity Center (DEC) fulfills the same purpose as the CCI would. The ASCWU board opposes this idea by saying that the DEC is an organization with space for their staff, and that right now they have to share their space with students and clubs. The CCI would mitigate that. 

According to Minjarez, CWU is the only university in Washington not to have its own multicultural center, yet has awards for diversity.

CWU has the most diverse campus with the highest population of students from minority communities, and that figure only rises as CWU has seen a 9% increase in student diversity since 2016 according to Minjarez. 

Advocate and Student Leader Ronnie Burris said CWU is not doing enough to support the needs of current and future CWU students. 

“If we want to ensure that our cultural wealth is being utilized and able to grow on this campus, we need to ensure that we are funding and putting all of our resources that are possibly available into supporting this cause,” Burris said.

“The CCI is going to be made for students by students, and being student led is what we need,” Minjarez said. 

One service that Director of Student Life and Facilties Alejandra Cruz-Martinez said she would like to include is financial advice for undocumented students. 

“If a student with an undocumented status were to need some kind of financial assistance where would they go to?” Cruz-Martinez said. “There isn’t an office on campus dedicated to that.”

The meeting between President Wohlpart and the ASCWU board was supposed to take place on Jan. 6, but due to the snow storm the meeting had to be postponed to Feb. 11. 

The next ASCWU meeting will be held on a to-be-determined date in February.