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Administrators reject OSHUN plan

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Layla Abbas
LV Life Editor

After six months of developing the concept for OSHUN, the group’s student leader received an email last month from several key departments rejecting the organization to serve as a funding structure. 

OSHUN, by design, is a parallel student government and funding structure that would operate independently from ASULV with particular focus on the interest of black and African American students. 

OSHUN is an acronym that stands for opportunities, spirit, harmony, unity and negotiation. Oshun is also a goddess of fertility and love, and a nurturer of humanity, among the Yoruba people of southwest Africa.

The purpose of OSHUN was to create a secondary structure to address the lack of representation for black and African-American students in ASULV. 

The email sent to Tyler Anderson, senior philosophy and speech communications major, on behalf of the Office of Student Life, the Office of Diversity and Inclusivity, the Center of Multicultural Services and the Office of the Provost, said no separate funding organization can be formed given the current student government structure.

“This is a historic thing for the University to ignore the needs of black students,” Anderson said in a recent interview. “They continue to fragment issues until they can rotate out the students (who) either graduate or drop out, and that is just the life of a black La Verne student.”

According to its proposed bylaws, OSHUN was designed to provide leadership opportunities for more African American students in student government and student life positions. 

Richard Rose, professor of religion and philosophy, advised and contributed to the initiatives of OSHUN.

He said OSHUN would essentially create a sense of belonging and encourage graduation and retention rates for the already marginalized demographic on campus.

One of the goals of OSHUN was to represent a unified black student body in which black students can develop a culture and community internally to better engage with the community, according to the organization’s proposed bylaws. 

Rose said he will continue to fight for OSHUN.

“If the administration does not respond positively then (the students) will probably have to go into some sort of protest mode,” Rose said. 

“The mission statement of the University, which talks about diversity and inclusivity, should be removed from our advertising. If we cannot recognize a diverse group and listen to their concerns, we do not need to say we are open to diversity and inclusivity,” Rose added.

Rose, who put his concerns in a letter to the editor in the Oct. 19 Campus Times, said he has not heard from the administration regarding his concerns with the way OSHUN was handled.

“I cannot represent the University as a faculty member if I don’t believe in it, and right now I do not believe in it,” Rose said. “I do a lot of traveling and speaking and there is no way I am going to lift up an institution that treats folks in this type of manner.”

Anderson said this experience has changed her experience as a student and made her think less of the University. 

She said the email blindsided her as the group was in the midst of making plans for OSHUN, and setting up meetings with the Black Student Union.

She said the University’s response to OSHUN made her feel she was not valued as a student here. 

“I did contemplate withdrawing from school, because I do not feel comfortable at the University,” Anderson said. 

Anderson said that while she feels supported in her academic majors, she does not feel supported in her non-academic endeavors. 

 “This is something that was supposed to facilitate positive change on campus and we are not going to let the conversation just go.”

University Provost Jonathan Reed said although the administration will not allow separate funding for organizations by ethnicity, the activities OSHUN wants to pursue can be supported via the in-place channels of student affairs and student life. 

“Separate funding organizations is common at very large institutions, but at smaller institutions like La Verne it creates significant problems (and) it creates precedent,” Reed said. “So what if Latino students decided they want their own ASULV? What if white students wanted their own separate ASULV?”

Reed said no one is opposed to a club or organization that helps bring together and support African American affinity groups and clubs. 

“I am very sympathetic to them,” Reed said. “I think it is important that ASULV be attuned to that, but there are other groups that are equally frustrated with lack of funding by ASULV in terms of travel and student conference reports.”

Hector Delgado, professor of sociology, said the University should be attuned to the issues addressed by this student population since the number of African Americans on campus is so low. 

“It becomes even more important to become sensitive to the needs to that community considering numerically it is a small group,” Delgado said. “If anything, the University should want to be more respectful with how they feel being the group with the smallest representation on campus.”

Delgado said college students are told they are adults, yet the treatment the organizers of OSHUN experienced does not reflect this notion.

 “The response to these students was like they were children,” Delgado said. “The University basically said ‘Go to your room.’”

Anderson said the mission of starting the parallel group was never to pit OSHUN against ASULV.

“We are here to facilitate a specific need for black students in particular that everyone seems to be ignoring in this process,” Anderson said. “Everyone wants to talk about logistics, but no one is answering the question, ‘Who is actually going to hep us?’” 

ASULV President Jackie Ku said he was not one of the parties making a decision but was kept informed about OSHUN’s proposal process. 

Ku said ASULV and administration were unsure of how to move forward with a parallel government structure.

“While parallel government structures have been implemented on different campuses around the nation, it is not something we see locally,” Ku said. “Administration was trying to work with ‘how do we move forward with a parallel government structure?’ so during this time there was a lot of paperwork to be done on both the administration side and OSHUN’s side.”

Ku said that although OSHUN has been halted, the inclusion conversations continue.

“There is still a learning curve there (and) every senator (on ASULV) is aware we need to be reaching out to students,” Ku said. “Making sure we are made aware of the concerns and represent those concerns… is something I am sure many people feel have not been fulfilled yet.”

Anderson said she plans to use her education in philosophy and speech communications to respond to the University in a formal, active and organized way. 

“I have learned how to take what is happening in our community and apply it to a larger scale,” Anderson said. “That is what our education is for. I believe bringing this conversation outside of the community is the next step so people can see the University for what it is and so the University can see itself for what it is.”

Layla Abbas can be reached at layla.abbas@laverne.edu.

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