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Community centers: Who gets funded?

(TIFFANY ONG/The Stanford Daily)

This article is the third in a mini-series examining the role, goals and challenges of community centers and other community-centered organizations on campus.

In June 2017, following the departure of Associate Vice Provost for Community Engagement and Diversity Nicole Taylor ’90, what was previously a unified group of seven campus community centers under her lead was disassociated and replaced with an interim structure grouping some, but not all, community centers. For community center advocates, that structural shift added to ongoing challenges in obtaining funds to meet centers’ needs 10 years after recession-era budget cuts.

As the University moves forward with its next fiscal year, The Daily examined the budget process with respect to community centers and specific areas in which resource allocation has affected them.

University budget process

As offices under Vice Provost of Student Affairs Susie Brubaker-Cole, community centers report to Provost Persis Drell, who convenes the University budget group annually to process requests to the University’s general funds. Brubaker-Cole brings submissions from the 20 divisions within student affairs, which include offices such as community centers, Residential Education and the Office of the Registrar. Through this process, community centers are allocated a portion of Stanford’s general funds.

April marks the end of the second phase of the process of determining the University budget for the next fiscal year, known as the “budget plan” phase, in which the committee projects fiscal performance based on the year’s events to develop a plan for the following year. The budget plan will not be finalized until late summer 2018.

Last year, Associate Vice Provost of Student Affairs Deborah Golder stated that community centers received a much more modest investment from the University budget group than they had hoped. Vice President for University Communications Lisa Lapin stated that recent structural changes contributed to budget decisions that fell short of what community centers wanted.

“There were no new positions funded in any area,” Lapin told The Daily in June 2017. “In part because of flat performance of the endowment and in part because some money is being set aside for the outcome of the long-range planning initiative and the priorities that emerge.”

Despite disappointment after last year’s funding allocation, Golder is optimistic for the coming school year.

“We have a new provost who’s very serious about this work,” Golder said, referring to Brubaker-Cole. “Hopefully as we continue to see needs and opportunities arise there will be a continued influx of resources into these spaces so we can do our best work.”

Additionally, some organizations did benefit from this year’s funding decisions. For example, the Markaz, Stanford Muslim students’ community center, received full funding through the 2019-20 fiscal year, whereas previously they had to apply for funding in each year. Still, however, the Markaz does not have a line-item in the University Budget.

Moreover, The Diversity and First Generation Office, which is not an official community center but was previously housed under the Community Engagement and Diversity unit, received an increased level of base-funding — continuing funding as opposed to yearly grants — that it had not been able to achieve in prior years.

Moving forward, the community centers are working to unite themselves under the interim structure that took the place of the Community Engagement and Diversity unit and work within the University’s process to obtain the resources they need.

The interim structure is looking to be in place for at least the remainder of 2018 — longer than initially anticipated, due to Boardman’s departure from the Vice Provost for Student Affairs position.

“It’s very common when someone’s leaving not to reorganize a division beforehand [and] let the new person coming in do that,” Golder said. “We thought the timeline was going to be like three months but it’s been a year.”

Golder attributes the delay to a larger overhaul that Brubaker-Cole is working toward in restructuring the division.

“[Brubaker-Cole] is actively engaging people in the community now to get feedback and ideas about how to do that so that will move us out of our interim structure,” Golder said. “She doesn’t want to just answer the interim question for what’s happening with the community centers, she wants to answer it for the whole division, so it takes a little bit longer.”

Nonetheless, Golder is confident they can work within the system in place to move community centers forward.

“The way the money comes isn’t going to change,” Golder said. “We’re really hopeful and optimistic about the new organizational design and to see where that’s going to land and where that’s going to go.”

Budget cuts and staffing concerns

Community centers’ funding struggles took a hit in 2008 with the economic recession, following a $3 million budget cut to Student Affairs. The centers have not been able to fully bounce back since.

University staff declined to disclose details on community center funding.

“We do not feel that it is appropriate to discuss funding models for the centers in general, but particularly while we are in the middle of budget planning for the next fiscal year,” Student Affairs Director of Communications and Web Strategy Elaine Ray wrote in an email to The Daily.

Funding issues can be traced back to 1989, when the University completed a 244-page report on minority issues on campus, detailing problems with minority life on campus and listing recommendations for the University to mitigate issues. Among these were recommendations for community centers to have three full-time staff members by September 1, 1990, as well as make community center direction these staffers’ only position on campus to allow them to devote the necessary time to the job.

However, due to funding limitations, a number of community centers remain without what they feel is an adequate number of staff members. The position of Director and Associate Dean of Students at the Native American Cultural Center has been vacant since the departure of Karen Biestman in June 2017. In an op-ed in The Daily, students involved with the A3C wrote that “for almost three decades” A3C affiliates have been advocating for an increase in staffing, specifically for a staff member to focus on research, graduate students and community partnerships as well as an administrative assistant.

The Markaz wrote in a similar op-ed that a third professional staff member to carry out administrative tasks “would be extremely helpful.”

“This would allow the program associate and associate director to focus on assessing the qualitative worth of the new resources the center has been providing so far,” the op-ed reads. “The professional staff would also be able to collaborate more with admissions officers on outreach to prospective applicants, which would allow better recruitment and retention of students that identify with the Markaz community. Furthermore, with the help of a third professional staff member, the staff could be able to devote more energy to consultations across campus about Muslim issues and sensitivity.”

Funding limitations also affect how current staff members are compensated. That’s been an issue at the Queer Student Resources center, involved students say.

“Under our current funding, there is a lot of work that is still not being properly recognized,” QSR supporters wrote in an op-ed in The Daily.

Beyond staffing, funding limitations also impact the programs community centers can offer.  

“Current funding levels restrict our support for queer voluntary student organizations, trans communities, queer graduate student communities and even our undergraduate student staff,” students wrote in the same op-ed. “Due to limited funding, QSR chose to allocate our entire speaker budget to provide nourishment and community building to students in the form of food, drinks and other necessities for students to feel welcomed.”

When funding from the University is low, some centers, like the Diversity and First-Generation (DGen) Office, turn to donors to accomplish their goals. An op-ed from student advocates for the DGen office cited “the generosity of donors” as the only way that the office was able to start addressing low-income students’ food needs over spring vacation for several years, before Residential and Dining Enterprises agreed to keep a dining hall open through the break starting in 2018.

Ongoing efforts

When asked about the progress on meeting the goals set out in the 1989 Minority Report, Ray wrote in an email to The Daily, “It is clear from the myriad issues raised in that nearly 240-page document, that ‘Building a Multiracial, Multicultural University Community,’ as the report is titled, is an ongoing, ever-evolving process and challenge, one that the current administration is committed to addressing.”

University Archivist Daniel Hartwig, who worked on the compilation of an online exhibition on the history of community centers, feels that, based on the centers’ history of activism, similar student demands are needed to bring forth change at a faster rate.

“There’s really no progress or change without struggle,” he said. “I think if students are more active and vocal, gaining support of faculty and staff, maybe the administration will revisit the need for community centers on campus.”

In the past, community centers advocates have set out lists of demands, such as the Rainbow Agenda in the late 1980s, which called for increased minority enrollment as well as the hiring of more minority faculty members. In 1988, the Students of Color Coalition organized protests to demand a more multicultural education at Stanford.

ASSU and Community Center Coalition member Senator Kimiko Hirota ’20 expressed that current efforts within the Community Center Coalition, an informal grouping of students and staff, are geared more toward working alongside University staff, rather than against them. The Coalition is working to expand center resources as well as unify community centers in a way that Taylor’s overarching structure would have.

“I feel like this was a critical year in the sense that [Brubaker-Cole] was new and so it was a beautiful opportunity for us to develop a relationship with a new administrator who was eager to work with students and who also understood the significance of community or cultural centers on campus,” Hirota said.

Regardless of their relationship with Brubaker-Cole, the coalition ultimately has to convince the Budget Committee to increase community center funding, and they intend to continue pushing their requests forward through the normal process.

“In the instance that [the Budget Committee] says ‘nope, we’re not going to [increase funding],’ then we’ll just do it again next year,” Hirota said.

 

Contact Julia Ingram at jmingram ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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