Highlighted in this essay is my experiences navigating, leveraging, collaborating, and doing work with an organization on UC San Diego’s campus. I offer a story to all first-generation underclassman from historically under-resourced communities trying to find their way in a sea student organizing post-Black Winter of 2010. This is a critique of an organization I worked with from 2010-2015 as Gender & Sexuality Studies Coordinator, representative for the Raza Resource Centro’s development, and eventually Co-Chair.
A close friend and I had the opportunity of taking part in creating a joint resource center as first years in college. This was an ongoing collaboration with the Black Student Union and el Movimiento Estdiantil Chicano de Aztlan and prior our arrival the project had been born from demands fought for tirelessly on behalf of students organizing around UC San Diego’s most infamous Compton Cookout of 2010. Characterized as a racially themed party, a series of anti-black racist acts would follow and later be re-named the Black Winter of 2010. Informing the creation of Dear White People in 2014, the film highlights issues revolving institutional accountability, racism, sexism, and student affairs in campus climates throughout universities across the nation.
Among ethnic specific resource centers for Native, Black, and Latino students – themed housing programs, diversity requirements, matched funding for the Student Promoted Center for Education and Service, a fully staffed office for a would be Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion were also made a reality as a result of students (not administration). Prior the Black Winter of 2010 campus climates held little-to-no importance in relation to access, retention, and graduation rates of historically under-resourced students in the eyes of academic leadership and administration UC-wide. A labor always already spearheaded by the Student Affirmative Action Committee and all affiliated organizations for generations prior and post the appointment of a Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.
I remember sitting in our first meeting with the Black Student Union thoroughly impressed by their vision, mission, and organizing of institutional needs to be addressed by the would-be joint resource center. But, there were tensions from the start. While BSU planned to create a professionally staffed resource center, MEChA felt it was more radical to create yet another student-ran center proceeding to invite organizations outside this union to derail and take part in creating a multicultural resource center instead.
As freshmen, my homie and I were expected to follow blindly. I recall being in meetings outside the coalition where upperclassman strategically spread rumors on how the joint-committee was being “co-opted.” MEChA gauged other organizations to push for a new coalition under the guise of resource centers for all (not just some). All the while halting progress with BSU by dragging committee meetings along with antagonisms like, can I have you redefine what you mean by Blackness, alluding to how this experience is too exclusive to function within a shared mission/vision statements with Latino students.
It did not matter that a plethora of BSU’s committee members were Afro-Latino. It was made apparent that BSU could not hold the best interest of a majority non-black Latino organization (read: anti-blackness). While all historically underrepresented students should have respective resource centers, we risked losing a space fought for under an explicit understanding of a joint resource center within the gaze of administration because of us.
My homie and I began to speak up in fear of losing the space lobbying for what we felt was best for the Latino student body and our relationship with BSU. After all this space wasn’t just MEChA’s as we understood it to belong to the generations that would come. We asked upperclassman to rethink their positions in opening a project already in development, that another student-ran space would only add to the burn-and-drop-out rates on campus, and to start being honest to BSU about what MEChA truly desired out of human decency. Propositions to work with Latino staff, administration, and professors were also thrown out the window with little-to-no context as it was understood to be working with the institution and not against it – a big no for radical student leaders.
Eventually, push came to shove. As we dragged out MEChA and BSU resource center committee meetings over how/who would be running the space and minutia around language in our mission/vision statements, BSU decided to end the coalition. They gave us the space where the would-be joint resource center would have been housed and advocated for one of their own. By now, my homie and I were labeled problematic by upperclassman for wanting to preserve a healthy relationship with BSU, seeking council outside of the org, and desires for professionally staffed as opposed to a student-ran resource center. I remember being in meetings when my homie was not present in which their Chicanidad was put to question because they were mixed-race. Although I decided to stay, they were very much pushed out strategically much like many close friends who held opinions against and outside of the inner circles of the space.
I would go on to serve the organization as their Gender & Sexuality Studies Coordinator. But, why perform programming highlighting the histories of queer/trans people for a space not invested in my communities reality? While the space was being student-ran, I decided to build a coalition within the Latino community on campus in efforts to push for a budget. If we were going to have programs we would need solidarity to achieve an active budget and administrative commitment to develop a resource center. But, again, MEChA felt this was not needed and although a coalition among the Latino body on campus was formed, I decided to leave the space for good to organize my healing with other non-binary femmes metabolizing the ever present brunt of communal neglect and academic rigor. Still to this day I’ll never understand how some of these upperclassmen call themselves “allies,” “Black” or “queer” so freely without living these experiences first-hand. Ethnic Studies doesn’t preach I know therefore I am but rather: Know history, know self. No history, no self.
It was exhausting trying to bridge between what a select few upperclassmen wanted and what the rest of the Latino community needed (in my eyes). My desires for something tangible to hand generations to come were derailed by liberal and white-ascending self-ascribed activists hijacking social justice spaces, taking up the most space, using a newfound language of social justice to get laid, and police the margins of exclusion. A normalized trend whereby queer/trans and/or femmes being pushed out of ethnic specific social justice based organizations was apparent. While at the same time relying on us for programming around such gender, poverty, the undocumented, and our collective experiences. Milked to meet quotas of diversity at the hands of an institution so far removed from the material conditions of communities like mine, no thank you.
Learned to weed out snakes more concerned with building resumes and social justice credibility than tending to each other’s stories (read: differences). Seen more organizations on campus rally to defend macktivists, rapists, racists, and sexual predators than reaching out to people dropping out their own communities like flies. Most of whom are survivors of sexual violence, femmes, trans, poor, undocumented, and psychovariant – becoming hauntings like we often do in the communities we hail from on campus.
Heading into my 5th year I was approached by a fierce individual and undocumented student organizer to run with her as Co-Chairs. Our incoming board inherited an organization in debt due to irresponsible predecessors, reputation in strife, space for a Latino resource center being threatened to be stripped due to negligence, and themed housing programs yet to be fleshed out. With an incredible team we accomplished our yearly programming, got out of debt, restored relations among Latino staff, admin, and professors as well as negotiated an administrative commitment in developing themed housing programs alongside BSU. The Raza Resource Centro would open few years after the Black Resource Center with the guidance BSU’s leadership and El Concilio making sure the advisory board center the voices of those it will serve in solidarity. Sure, we were far from perfect as a board but it was my dream team with no toxic self-proclaimed activists to slight the leadership, professional, and personal development of younger organizers.
What are the limits of nationalist spaces when addressing campus climates? How much labor has gone unrecognized on behalf of our queer/trans femmes in such spaces?
So, question graduate students who won’t leave undergraduate organizing alone. Question leadership, hold them accountable, and challenge them. Remember why you decided to apply to college in the first place, what is at stake for you personally, and hold those who call themselves activists with no involvement on the ground, outside of UCSD. Organizations uninvested in local issues while centering programming exclusively on campus are not radical, they’re elitist. The issues our ancestors have been fighting have only become compounded with time and while we learn to fill incredibly large shoes – I’m more interested in how we hold one another accountable in the coming times of racial and gendered strife.
I need underclassman to not place upperclassman on pedestals. I need readers to understand that there is nothing inherently radical about a resource center professional or student-run. What a radicalism entails is a dismantling of the academy and a disseminating of knowledge into the communities we hail from with an explicit understanding of how experiencing the institution is privileged. Access work shouldn’t be merely about joining the ranks of our oppressors as academics, but rather access to other aspects of life which build a more holistic, healthy, and accountable movement of compassion with those most marginalized at the center. I refuse to let the memory of this would-be joint space be warped into something that could have been, but rather understood as an incredible failure in bridging gaps of solidarity and compromise to learn from instead.