A Space of their Own: Increasing Access to Education for Minorities

The move to double SPACES funding has drawn praise from students who say the University of California seriously underrepresents minority students. According to Noel Magtoto, the SPACES Director of Internal Affairs, the majority of the Center’s funding goes to five large groups, which have over 2,000 student members between them.

“The core organizations are Student Affirmative Action Committee, Black Student Union, Mecha [Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán], Asian Pacific-Islander Student Alliance and LGBTQIA,” Magtoto said. “We’re willing to fund all students who fit our requirements, but these five organizations are the most active.”

Any organization that wants to use SPACES funding has to apply for it, and the five core organizations are not exempt from the rule. It provides generous funding. In addition to the programs it funds externally, SPACES runs a set of endogenous programs using the funding it receives from the state. It runs a book lending program for underprivileged UCSD students. It provides planners and school supplies for undergraduates who come from from underperforming school districts — many of whom are unprepared for the academic pressure of a UC, and who suffer from a high dropout rate. It runs a series of well-attended mentorship programs with Mecha and BSU.

“Our focus, especially with the high school students, is the fourth and fifth quintiles,” Magtoto said. “We work with the students who don’t have access to resources and try to get them applying — and ideally, being admitted to — college. We also have various programs that cater to the lower-performing students at UCSD.”

Other programs at SPACES cater to students from ethnic minorities, like the SPACES-run newspaper, The Collective Voice. According to co-editor in chief Jennifer Valez, the paper was founded as a response to mainstream media outlets’ failure to cover topics that are relative to students who come from a marginalized background.

“It’s often unintentional, but even in your paper, the Guardian, you find that there are specific voices that aren’t heard,” she said. “The mainstream media isn’t critical; it doesn’t hold the university accountable for what it does. The Collective Voice is different. Our writers cover issues relevant to all sorts of students. For instance, our next issue is about languages — in particular, which ones are validated and which ones are not.”

Because of the increased funding allocated to SPACES by the University of California, The Collective Voice is now able to publish twice a quarter instead of once a quarter. The change was criticized as wasteful spending in the Nov. 23 issue of the California Review, which is the conservative quarterly at UCSD.

“We get so many students who have so much to say, and before this we were turning them away,” Valez said.

As an editor-in-chief, Valez is paid on an hourly basis for her work, an administrative decision that was criticized in the Cal Review article.

“While I’m paid on an hourly basis as an editor for the Collective Voice, that’s only 15 hours maximum per week,” Valez said. “I’m paid $11 an hour for those 15. But I don’t even know how many extra hours I put in — it takes up my weekends and my nights. Not everyone has the privilege to work for free — not when they have bills to pay.”

Valez said that, in addition, the increased funding was especially important in light of the presence of minority-hostile publications at UCSD.

“We don’t get private funding, like the Koala does,” she said. “We need to exist as a form of response — as a form of resistance.”

Another operation that operates entirely via state funds is the Xoxotlani Outreach Program, which is run jointly by SPACES and Mecha. Karla Diaz is the program coordinator for the 2012-13 year.

“Xoxotlani [pronounced “sho-sho-tlani”] means ‘to flourish’ in Nahuatl, and that’s something I always keep with me,” she said.

The program is an outreach initiative for high school students with weekly workshops and daily tutoring sessions after school. In previous years, before the funding increase, the program consisted of tutoring alone.

“This year, it’s going to be a lot more holistic,” Diaz said. “In addition to tutors in geometry and literature and college applications, we are going to have weekly sessions that are based on storytelling, creating an uplifting narrative for their lives.”

Diaz said the program’s coordinators have begun to realize that the problems of structural inequality, which SPACES is designed to combat, go deeper than not knowing basic math.

“We want them to understand the role of gender, the role of culture and ethnicity, the role of the media in their lives,” she said. “We need to make these kids believe in themselves — that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Magtoto said that a program similar to Xoxotlani helped him get to college in the first place, but that the struggle didn’t end there for him.

“As a transfer student who is also a minority, it’s very difficult to find community — a network of people to talk to. Transfers only have two years to finish their degrees. That’s why I became involved with the Transfer Retention Program at SPACES, and eventually became its coordinator.”

The program is designed to help community college students adjust to the shock of bell curve grading and the quarter system. As with the high school program run jointly with Xoxotlani, TRP includes both time management and personal empowerment components — a dual curriculum that has become a signature of the center’s many operations.

“It saved me,” Magtoto said of the SPACES-run program. “For the first time within it, I felt as though I had a home.”

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