The March 4 Merger Meeting

A summary of the developing conversation between students advocating for the Women’s Center and LGBTQ+ Center, and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Farrah Marie Gomes

Copy Editor Clara Scheidle
Graphic Designer Naomi Lemieux

_Editor’s Note: This is the latest installment of ongoing coverage on this issue. Please see the articles “Consolidating Solidarity” in the November 2019 issue and “The February Merger Forums” in the February 2020 issue for more information and reference. _

One thing was clear after the conclusion of the February merger forums; the conversation was not over. This meeting held at the beginning of March included seven student representatives of the centers, a Ke Kalahea correspondent, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Student Association (UHHSA) Data Director Kevianna “Kiwi” Adams, and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Farrah-Marie Gomes. The meeting was held on a Wednesday, and just like the previous, started at noon with a hard stop at 1 p.m.

Similarly to what was expressed in the previous forums and the online survey, there was a continued emphasis on the idea of a necessary “safety net” for the LGBTQ+ students on the UH Campus. They perceive these centers to be a resource of safety as well as comfort, and they believe it will not be the same if they have to change locations.

When students asked why it was so difficult for the centers to remain where they are, Gomes reminded them that the space was currently on loan. This loan is up soon, and a way for them to keep the space was to merge into a “Diversity Center.”

“Because we are being asked to go back on that,” said Gomes, “we are back to square one.” Gomes expressed that they want the ethnic minorities program to fit the needs for the students today. She was looking into how they could “use the legislative funds to use for all minorities and underrepresented groups,” when they were met with opposition from the centers.

This attempt at redefining the LGBTQ+ and Women’s Centers under state legislation comes from the fact that the law only requires the university to dedicate space for an ethnic minorities program, but not for a space dedicated to resources for women and members of the LGTBTQ+ community.

A student mentioned that the needs of these centers should also be mandated by law. Yates-Tese, drawing on the information given to them in the previous meeting, pointed out that it is up to students to be writing this legislation and that they weren’t supposed to be talking about it in these meetings. Gomes responded to this with, “not yet,” and began explaining her plans to put together an advisory group for each of the centers.

The LGBTQ+ advisory group may have to be built from scratch, because although Gomes has heard that there was one prior to 2016, she could find no record of its existence. They do, however, have the members of the Women’s Center advisory group. “That would be a starting point for assembling the team.”

There was talk on looking into possibly being grant funded, like the Student Support Services Program (SSSP). Ke Kalahea asked if there was a way for the university itself to pay for these endeavors, without needing the legislature required for it or grants to fund it.

Gomes responded that this was possible. This would mean that it would be funded through “tuition dollars that would need to be reallocated internally.”

The way it works is there is a budget office that manages the budget for the entire campus. Each vice chancellor manages the budget in their respective divisions and then the chancellor oversees the budget for the entire campus. “If you have the additional funds to do that, that aren’t already dedicated to certain efforts, you could.”

Those certain efforts, in this case, are the ones that are being mandated by the legislature. The Division of Student Affairs receives just under $300,000 to provide everything for 21 units across the division. This includes office supplies, travel costs, programming, and 100 employees that need to be paid. After these expenses, there is not much that they can offer in terms of programming, and why they offer around $2,600 per center for programming.

At this point, a student asked if anyone had any proposed solutions.

Adams responded to this by saying she may be able to provide one in the long term. Adams said she believes that they are currently all in a hard spot, and that it's meaningful and important that they are having these conversations to express what they want and what they need. She said that now and in the future, she and UHHSA would be bringing this issue up to the legislature, which is a difficult thing to do.

For example, this year they were lobbying to get another mental health counselor for the campus, but that didn’t pass. Despite this, the centers should be attempting to be put in a bill so they can start having that conversation- meaning that despite their other pritorites, legislators will have to consider.

Yates-Tese expressed frustration over the fact that again, the job of writing a bill and going to the legislature was being left to students who don’t know how to do so, and stated that the university seems to be unwilling to allocate them a resource of support in that issue.

“I understand that it is asking a lot to stay in the space to not be merged so that we lose our name and to have some kind of higher up representation of the LGBTQ+ community… I know that what’s supposed to happen is that there’s supposed to be a compromise,” Yates-Tese explained, “but what kills me is: why is it always the people who are minorities the ones who have to compromise what they’re asking for?”

She continued on to say that she knows the answer is that the people in power are not a part of these issues and therefore do not care for their problems, and instead minorities have to wait until better representation happens along.

At this point, the meeting’s time was up, and Gomes had to leave. Before she did so, however, she did make a few final statements to wrap up the meeting.

“I want to make sure that we are clear that the other two units occupying that space also consider themselves minorities,” said Gomes. “MAAP and SSSP, by federal guidelines, are serving the population of first generation and low income students. So it’s not that we have minority and majority in play here, we have limited resources- period. We are doing what we can here with what we have.”

She then stated that in the next two weeks, she will be forming the advisory group for each of the different centers and will be asking for them to meet by the end of the month. This advisory group will not only consist of staff and faculty, but will also include at least one student on each. This wasn’t the case in advisory boards of the past, Gomes mentioned, but this is what they wanted to do moving forward. They hadn’t made a decision yet on how to choose these students, but they were working on it at the time. Once the meetings have occurred by the end of the month, Gomes said she would put together a follow-up to reconvene and have a discussion on what they’re looking at in terms of status and progress.

The meeting ended with the promise of further conversation and planning. That was the beginning of March. Two weeks later, the COVID-19 health crisis developed in such a way that the entire state of Hawai‘i is under a stay-at-home order, classes have moved online for the rest of the semester, and the campus is closed to the public.

Ke Kalahea reached out to both Yates-Tese and Gomes to ask how they were dealing with their situation with regards to the new restrictions that come with a global pandemic.

As of March 31, Yates-Tese has not heard any update regarding the centers. Gomes states that COVID-19 became a high priority shortly after the March 4 meeting, and thus not much progress has been made in the past month.

“I plan to return to the conversation just as soon as we’re able to get to some sense of stability with regard to the current situation,” Gomes continued.

Furthermore, Gomes informs that Ashley Magallanes, as the centers’s coordinator, “has been included in emails that I send out to all the Student Affairs leaders, not just regarding COVID-19 standards and protocols but any information that’s sent to all my directors.”