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Community-centered: El Centro Chicano y Latino

“The Provost should provide funding to strengthen the ethnic centers’ budgets… We further recommend that [Stanford provides] each center with three full-time staff positions by September 1, 1990.”

In 1989, the University Committee on Minority Issues, established by the President and Provost, made this and other recommendations concerning Stanford’s community centers. Twenty-eight years later, many of these have yet to be met. El Centro Chicano y Latino, Stanford’s Latinx community center, is currently run by 2.55 full-time-equivalent staff positions. Since 1989, Stanford’s Latinx population has more than doubled. Thus, Stanford has failed to meet a recommendation appropriate for less than half of the population the center is now expected to serve.

Moreover, Centro does not serve exclusively Latinx communities — last year, one third of the attendees at Centro’s major programs were non-Latinx-identifying. To be sure, Centro has successfully implemented profound programming and provided a home for many, but only through the student workers and professional staff that go exceptionally beyond reasonable responsibilities and the monetary support of Voluntary Student Organizations (VSOs). If Stanford is to claim a commitment to diversity and tout its community centers on brochures, it’s beyond time that the University provide institutional support through adequate funding and staffing resources.

Centro’s history

Throughout the 1970s, as the Chicanx/Latinx student population grew, the need for a cultural center on campus where students could enhance their academic skills and promote inclusion and equity at a predominantly white Stanford became a necessity. In May of 1977, the Chicano Cultural Center Committee, composed of faculty, staff and students, submitted a proposal for the creation of Centro, with its reasons being “the University’s commitment to provide its students with quality education within the setting of diversity and our own will to develop and secure our presence on campus.” The University approved and allocated funds to renovate the basement of the Nitery to house Centro, allowing it to open its doors in 1978 to the entire community, both Latinx-identifying and non-identifying.

Yet the economic recession in 2008 caused detrimental effects to the University and compelled Stanford to make budget cuts to several programs falling under Student Affairs and Undergraduate Education, including community centers. As a result, Centro faced a significant 21-percent reduction to its already modest budget for general funds in 2009. Although these cuts were restored in all other programs in 2011, the budgets for community centers were never fully restored, causing them to operate on a supposedly temporary budget for the past six years. A lack of funding from the Stanford administration has caused Centro to rely on undergraduate academic departments and VSOs to fund its events. The idea that Centro does not have the University’s financial support to be able to put on programming without the need for outside funds goes against the very foundations the University consented to in its creation 40 years ago.

Programming at Centro

Centro works to support students academically, personally, socially and culturally. At the heart of Centro’s community-building work is its comprehensive programming, which provides academic support, promotes professional development and encourages mentorship. Centro works diligently to identify students’ needs and to work with students at different moments in their Stanford careers. An example of this is the Cesar Chavez Commemoration, an academic program that gives students an opportunity to engage with activists and scholars. Students learn about a variety of issues while simultaneously coming to see themselves as the latest examples of a long legacy of community service and work towards social change. Other programs, ranging from the Frosh Scholars Program to the Honors Thesis Mentorship Program, demonstrate Centro’s dual commitment to supporting students in their academic endeavors and celebrating their identity.

Although Centro emphasizes academic and professional development, it is also a home to the 18 VSOs that foster a legacy of service, activism and arts in the community. VSOs work with Centro to sponsor weekly “Study Nights” that offer tutoring in math, writing, chemistry and physics. Further, in an effort to introduce students to career opportunities and professional prospects, Centro hosts a yearly Alumni Networking Dinner to introduce students to successful and accomplished professionals in a variety of fields.

As Centro is a space established to emphasize and promote the Latinx and Chicanx identity, Centro provides invaluable programming centered around culture and identity. Through events such as Dia de Los Muertos, Cafecito and Nuestra Grad, Centro connects its students to their rich ethnic history and introduces friends and allies to the community. For many students, this type of programming is crucial to combating feelings of isolation and culture shock.

Serving graduate students

One of Centro’s most successful yet under-resourced programs is its Graduate Scholars in Residence. Since 1998, the program has provided a welcoming community, writing workshops and much-needed office space for graduate students. This has led not only to a graduation completion rate that exceeds the national average (91.3 percent vs. 49 percent graduating), but also to 69.6 percent of program alumni holding tenure or tenure-track positions. Karina Gutierrez, currently in the program, spoke about her experience: “I stand here as a Ph.D. candidate because of spaces like Centro [here]… I feel heard; I feel respected; I feel cared for.” So-Rim Lee vocalized similar sentiments: “This is the only community I’ve found on campus as a graduate student. As a Korean national, I’ve found a community at Centro, where I’ve been challenged to explore questions of belonging, of real diversity.” Both mentioned that due to inadequate funding, similar programs do not exist at other centers, hinting at how Stanford’s graduate students are underserved.

Dr. Margaret Sena, Centro’s Graduate Student Program Developer, is constantly searching for ways to improve the graduate student experience. This year, she organized a student welcome to introduce new graduate students to Centro and its programming. Dr. Sena has attempted to increase Centro’s programming for graduate students but can only do so much as part-time staff. The position requires full-time attention, and the difference comes out of Dr. Sena’s generosity.

Moving forward

For over 40 years, Centro has and will continue to support a broad range of students. With each year, the population it serves grows and becomes more diverse. It is egregious that Centro has had to meet the needs of its community with inadequate financial and structural support from the University. We ask that the administration increase financial support to cover the deficits that VSOs have had to compensate for. Beyond that baseline, funding must continuously increase to match the rising number of students that Centro serves. In addition, we urge the promotion of Dr. Sena to full-time status and the hiring of more professional staff to keep up with the increased demand for programs and services.

Stanford has neglected its community centers for far too long. We are not just models on brochures. We are real people who expect excellence and equity from a Stanford education.

Signed,

Bernardo Velez Rico ’18
David Albán Hidalgo ’17 M.A. ’18
Eda Benites ’18
Julian Pena ’17 M.S. ’19
Marisol Zarate ’19
Mayahuel Ramirez ’20
Michael Ocon ’20

 

Contact the authors at communitycentercoalition ‘at’ gmail.com.

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