Advisory council gives Asian student organizations new suite

The three Asian student organizations that were asked to vacate their suites in the Shalala Student Center (SSC) two weeks ago will be given a shared Asian Student Organization Suite in the Whitten University Center (UC) next semester. After receiving a letter from a coalition formed by students concerned about the implications of not having any suite space for Asian students, Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Whitely and the Student Center Complex Advisory Council (SCCAC) resolved to allocate a preexisting office in the UC to the organizations.

The Asian American Students Association (AASA), Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), Indian Students Association (ISA) and Filipino Student Association (FSA) will be given the “Asian Student Org Suite,” according to Ishtpreet Singh, chair of the SCCAC.

“We are happy to be able to expand upon our original allocations and provide additional student organization office space,” Singh said.

The allocation was made possible after the University Credit Union in the UC decided not to renew its lease for next year, opening space for the SCCAC to create a new meeting room in its place and use a preexisting meeting room on the second floor for the Asian organizations.

“The SCCAC approved the use of the credit union space as a meeting room, enabling us to retrofit and use one of the current meeting rooms on the second floor of the University Center as a space for student organizations,” Singh said. “The SCCAC acted quickly but deliberately to allocate this space and is happy to announce that this new office has been assigned.”

After being told three other organizations would be filling the offices previously occupied by the Asian organizations, many members were left looking for answers on why there wouldn’t be a single Asian organization represented in a suite in the SSC.

Numerous Asian organizations on campus formed a coalition in response to the decision to voice their concerns as a united group and to send a letter to Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Whitely. The letter, which detailed the coalition’s disappointment in the lack of Asian presence in the suites, was written together by members of AASA, ISA, CSSA, FSA, Hong Kong Students Association (HKSA), Japanese Students Association (JSA) and the Society of Asian Engineers (SASE).

The coalition also held meetings with the advisory council. AASA, ISA and CSSA accepted the reasoning of the advisory council in removing them from the office space, but were concerned with how that decision could create diversity and inclusion issues if the Asian community was not represented at all.

“We were disappointed and surprised that the long-term consequences of not reserving any office spaces for Asian organizations were not anticipated considering our school’s esteem for diversity and the critical role our organizations play in creating this inclusive community,” the letter read. “While we understand that this is not targeted discrimination, we believe this decision overlooks the importance of including the Asian community on campus.”

Despite the concerns voiced by the coalition, Singh reiterated that the original allocation process was fair.

“The method ensured fairness, openness, impartiality and consideration of each organization’s unique contributions and role on campus and we fully stand by the allocations we released two weeks ago,” Singh said.

Whitely replied to the coalition via email, saying she appreciated the feedback and was trying to find a solution with the advisory council.

“There may be a solution, which will not displace any existing student organizations,” Whitely wrote. “I understand the importance of finding a creative solution and we are working deliberately to do so.”

AASA President John Le said that the talks went well and that he wasn’t expecting an office, he just wanted the Asian organizations’ concerns to be heard and to create an open dialogue with the administration.

“The university administration was completely understanding of our disappointment and was willing to work with us,” Le said. “To be completely honest, I thought that the administration’s’ hands would be tied when it came to appealing for an office.”

After talks between Whitely and the advisory council, the decision was made and authorized by Singh and the rest of the council to designate a space to be shared among the Asian organizations.

“In referring to this new space as the ‘Asian Student Org Suite,’ we encourage these organizations to maintain an open-door policy and welcome Asian and non-Asian students and organizations alike,” Singh said. “In making this allocation, we could only consider groups who applied for office space, but we are hopeful that these four organizations will open their space to other, smaller Asian organizations to utilize as well.”

FSA President Chelsea-Jane Arcalas was happy to hear that her Asian organizations will get a shared space that will help showcase their culture to the campus community.

“We feel that it will contribute greatly to our inclusion on campus and will allow us to unite with other Asian organizations as well as with the Asian student population in general, and contribute to the diverse environment of UM as a whole,” she said.

Arcalas credited the letter sent by the coalition for making sure the voice of Asian students was heard and taken into account by the university.