Show Me the Dinero

Latino students and faculty question how CSULB’s $2.8 million grant—meant to help Latinos—is being spent

A little more than a year ago, Cal State Long Beach came into a nice little chunk of money—$2.8 million, to be exact. The money is given to universities that qualify as "Hispanic Serving Institutions" (HSI), which means the Latino population exceeds 25 percent, and half of those students are low-income. HSI grants are meant to "enhance and expand" a school's capacity to serve such students.

But the story doesn't have a happy ending just yet—or even a happy beginning. How the five-year, $570,000-per-year grant is being spent and what CSULB has to show for it has become a touchy subject on campus.

After an Oct. 16, 2006, op-ed in the campus newspaper, the Daily 49er, in which new university president F. King Alexander cheerily announced the grant, the Chicano/Latino Studies Department sent a letter directly to the president expressing their dismay over the exclusion of Latino groups from the design and implementation of the grant in the year preceding its delivery.

OC Weekly photo illustration.
OC Weekly photo illustration.

The letter pointed out that the department had been ignored, despite having been assured by former provost Gary Reichard and other administrators that it and other major Latino campus organizations at the 37,000-student university would be grant partners. "We have never met as a group to talk about the grant with president Alexander," says department chairman Luis Arroyo.

The group also expressed alarm over the administration's failure to engage major campus Latino groups, such as the Latino Student Union and the Latino Faculty and Staff Association, during the planning of the grant.

Individuals from some of those groups participated in meetings, says associate professor of Chicano/Latino studies Jose Moreno, "but grant leadership was very explicit in saying no one is here representing any organization," he says. The letter called the administration out for not including any Latinos on the grant's management team and for only including one Latino student on its 15-person advisory committee. It was stamped boldly with a vote of "no confidence."

The administration was going through a transition, so faculty didn't expect a response right away, Arroyo says. But president Alexander took a full year to respond. "I didn't think it would take that long," Arroyo says, adding that he appreciated the response, "but we did not feel it addressed the issues we had raised the previous year."

In that response, says Moreno, the president said the grant team had made changes over the summer, "but he didn't ask anyone to participate in what those changes would be. Why wouldn't we have been communicated to regarding those changes?"

Duke Rescola, opinion editor for the Daily 49er, noted the delay. "A letter of no-confidence is a really important thing, and it really strikes me that the president would let that lie dormant for a year," he says.

New to the opinion pages of the newspaper, Rescola decided to take a look at archives for the past year. He discovered Alexander's op-ed announcing the HSI grant, and then a frustrated op-ed submitted a few weeks later by graduate student Jaime Lopez regarding the president's failure to respond to the faculty's letter.

"I started asking questions about it and stirred up a little hornets' nest," Rescola says. He talked to students and faculty in his intro Chicano/a studies classes. "I started hearing more about this grant and inequity. I started finding out information from faculty and students, and it just smelled worse and worse."

Rescola found out that nothing had ever come of the concern expressed by faculty, and the only tangible proof he could find of grant money being spent on students was in the form of "HSI" T-shirts classmates were wearing. He implored the news department to investigate the grant.

A Daily 49er report, which ran on the October anniversary of the grant, found that the grant was being used to hire peer mentors who would counsel two to three at-risk Latino students, with the goal of 100 students over the course of the academic year, as well as being directed to various programs to make them "culturally competent."

The story was complemented by a biting op-ed by student Nelly Suazo, who said she had not seen any tangible results among her peers. "There's a dark cloud that hovers over our campus, casting a shadow that reflects a gloomy reality: The HSI grant is serving the university, but CSULB is not a Hispanic Serving Institution."

If the students had it their way, says Moreno, the grant would be used to build some sort of Latino student center. Moreno says his department held community sessions with the major Latino campus groups and conducted research in 2005 and found that Latino students felt isolated from one another and from campus resources. "So students put together the idea of creating a physical space on campus to provide services," says Moreno. "That's what they wanted. That's what they said they wanted. If the purpose of the grant is to build the capacity to support Latino success, then that would be it."

But the university rejected the idea, ?he says.

"We can't lose sight of our institutional mission, and that is to make sure we're providing the strongest infrastructure for all of our students," says provost and vice president of student affairs Karen Gould, who began her tenure in March 2007. "As the grant was written, and as we are implementing it, and as it is evolving, the notion of an entirely separate building for Latino students is not appropriate," she says. Gould says HSI grant operations will soon be centralized on campus so that students will know where to go for resources and mentorship.

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