Student representatives from the Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity and affiliated groups presented a list of six requests on Friday in a meeting with UCSB administration, including that the RCSGD be removed from the oversight of the Women, Gender, and Sexual Equity department and made an independent entity.
The meeting was planned weeks ago in response to an initial list of three requests regarding the RCSGD’s organizational status and space, as well as the guaranteed salaries of several positions outside the RCSGD. Hikaru Ezra Mernin, the RCSGD’s trans advocacy coordinator, presented the requests to administration in October.
Undergraduates crowded into the first floor of the Student Resource Building to spectate the meeting. Vice Chancellor Margaret Klawunn, other administrators, and graduate students representing the grad LGBTQ community sat in attendance, with students filling up the rest of the available sitting space and gathering in the back.
The firing of RCSGD staff member Ale Muro and subsequent resignation of RCSGD Program Director Abby Salazar, which occurred on Tuesday morning, often dominated discussion. Much of the student anger at administration derived from faith in Salazar’s integrity. “Abby has stood behind so many of us and so many of our movements,” said Minal Habash, the internal coordinator of the RCSGD. “She has stood by us for so long, and yet she left in solidarity with Ale. And that tells us all something.”
Although Klawunn said the administration is still investigating Muro’s firing and Salazar’s resignation, several students said they believe the initial firing to be racially motivated. Moreover, students claimed Muro and Salazar were the only two adult staff within the RCSGD who supported the initial list of requests presented in October.
The list of requests presented in October was a copy of a list first presented to and signed by Chancellor Henry Yang in 1998, which resulted in the creation of the RCSGD in 1999.
The requests presented on Friday went beyond those originally made in 1998, calling for the resignation of Assistant Dean of Students Kim Equinoa and Associate Director of the RCSGD Christine Dolan, who goes by Dolan, for their role in the firing of Muro and resignation of Salazar, as well as their decision to call the police.
Within the original list, students also called for the university to construct “a new, fully equipped, freestanding structure for the RCSGD.” Specifications for that structure include new amenities, such as a study space, a recreation center with gender-inclusive locker rooms, and offices to house new personnel.
Furthermore, students asked that the university pay the salaries of positions outside the RCSGD deemed “vital to the maintenance of queer students’ quality of life.”
A letter of no confidence presented to the administration on behalf of the RCSGD student staff stated, “If the University fails to meet these demands by the end of December 2017 they will face a civil rights lawsuit from the marginalized student body.”
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn gave the administrative response at the meeting, removing the RCSGD from under the oversight of the WGSE to that of Dean of Student Life Katya Armistead, effective immediately.
Klawunn further promised to double the RCSGD’s current programming budget and guarantee the salaries of certain staff positions the RCSGD deemed vital to the maintenance of queer students’ quality of life.
In response to student questioning, Klawunn said she was committed to investigating the circumstances that led to the firing of Muro and resignation of Salazar in order to fully consider the requests to remove Dolan and Equinoa from their positions. Regarding the construction of a free-standing structure, Klawunn said the University cannot grant that immediately but administration would continue working on a plan.
Student speakers also expressed frustration at the involvement of police, who were called at some point on Tuesday and entered the SRB. Students and administration gave conflicting narratives of whether police escorted Muro from the SRB or were merely on the premises.
Rony Castellanos, the diversity education facilitator at the RCSGD, said that “this is about the two people who brought the police into this center, this is about institutionalized racism, this is about white supremacy, and this is about race.”
On-Campus Senator Steven Ho, the liaison to the RCSGD-affiliated organization Queer Commission, introduced a resolution to Associated Students Senate supporting the student demands for a freestanding RCSGD. The resolution is currently up for an email vote.
Ho told The Bottom Line about a Thursday meeting that took place between students and administration in which most of the concessions Klawunn made were predetermined.
At the end of the meeting on Friday, students and administrators worked together to write up a resolution codifying Klawunn’s promises, which she signed.
Nonetheless, students repeated their intent throughout the meeting on maintaining and increasing the RCSGD’s independence from administration. “We will no longer wait for the University to take action,” students wrote in the statement of no confidence. “We are doing it for them.”