The most recent attempt by the University of Southern California to diversify its student population and the services provided to those students has been to relocate and subsequently downsize the Latin@ resource center, El Centro Chicano.
At the beginning of the 2013 spring semester, the director of El Centro, Billy Vela, was told that the university had plans to relocate El Centro from its current location on the third floor of the United University Church (UUC). The explanation provided by the administration was “financial and spacial considerations,” though the financial aspect of their rationalization was later recanted. On March 29, Denzil Suite informed Billy Vela that the decision has been made to relocate El Centro Chicano to the fourth floor of the Student Union.
The administration claims to be relocating El Centro in the interest of all cultural boards on campus, such as Asian Pacific American Student Services (APASS) and the Center for Black Cultural and Students Affairs (CBCSA). It is apparently necessary for all the cultural groups to be in close physical proximity to each other in order to ensure that all of these organizations cooperate. This claim is made—of course—in complete ignorance of multiple events co-sponsored by the different groups, the most notable being Project ReMix, a mixer event held at the current El Centro every third Thursday. The administration’s claims that physical proximity would improve communication is also null, since the Internet and social media can keep people in contact and cooperating even from across the globe.
This is not the first time the University has undercut El Centro. In 1972, Latin@ and Chican@ established the original El Centro Chicano at USC. Situated at 3406 Hoover Street, the original El Centro was a two-story building with roughly eight full-time staff , adorned with murals and filled with Latino students seeking the much-needed familiarity of a unified culture. Skip forward to 1979, when the facility was demolished during a university “beautification” process. The administration failed to properly alert the faculty and students associated with El Centro, as well as failing to preserve the murals. El Centro was then relocated to the third floor of the United University Church, where it has resided since.
Last year marked the 40th anniversary of El Centro’s existence at the University of Southern California. Some students feel that this milestone makes USC’s actions particularly offensive. Over 300 students, faculty and alumni attended the anniversary celebration, which raised over $10,000 in donations for El Centro to further its programming, but USC seems to have turned a blind eye toward El Centro’s contributions toward the students and the University that El Centro for the past 40 years. In return for these contributions, USC is choosing to downsize the space that El Centro provides and will quite literally white-wash its current location, including a recent mural dedicated to Cesar Chavez and other agents of progress and social justice.
USC claims its actions are made in the name of diversity and to encourage unity amongst the student cultural centers, but the true consequence of the administration’s decision is to further gentrify the community of USC. Moving all of the cultural student centers to one central location will not aid diversity but limit and regulate multicultural activities according to USC’s preferences.
Students, alumni and faculty here at USC, as well as at other campuses, have showed support for El Centro and opposition toward the USC administration’s decision to relocate. A popular phrase amongst Chicano activists of the 60s and 70s was to refer to the community and the movement as a “sleeping giant.” This is the case with the Latino students at USC, there will be a reaction, the Latino community already has its actions ready. The scale of these actions is completely up to the University and how it decides to respond to the growing unrest.
For more information and to show your support, join the letter campaign from April 1 to 4.
You can also visit the El Centro Chicano Facebook page.