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Haggling dogs Multicultural Center plans

The Multicultural Center, born amid controversy a decade ago, found itself embroiled in dispute again as advisory board members struggled to bring equity to the rewriting of the center’s by-laws.

Two main contentions split the eight faculty members and two students who attended the interim advisory board meeting, set to reorganize the by-laws. One charge: there weren’t enough students represented. The second: not enough outreach had been made to attract student input for the bylaws. There also arose the issue of whether or not parliamentary procedure should be followed.

Diane Mandaville, a part-time student who attended as a community representative, initially raised the concerns.

“At the meeting it was pretty obvious there was a lack of student representation,” she said. On the subject of attracting student input, she said, “There was not a lot of outreach done.”

Members of the group conceded it would be desirable to have more students and felt that every effort had been made to raise student awareness about the revision process. They also observed that many students active in the center planning had graduated, transferred or were not available in the summer.

Mercedes Benton, adviser to multicultural groups, said she had sent a letter to all the student organizations inviting them to be represented at the meeting. She felt she had done all she could to attract student participation.

The permanent board under the current by-laws would number 25 members; 10 faculty, 10 students and five community representatives.

After the session, Joiner scheduled two meetings for today and tomorrow specifically to encourage student input into the reorganizing process.

This climate of dispute echoes back to 1993. Then, some students condemned Portland State University President Judith Ramaley for choosing all the board members as well as appointing Gwen Jagernauth to the position of events coordinator. Today, Joiner invites anyone interested to join in the ongoing process of revising the by-laws and moving the center ahead.

One area of the July 25 meeting that aroused opposition was that Mandaville wanted to remove the word “collaborative” from the proposed mission statement, which now reads, “To provide a forum for collaborative cultural, educational, and social experiences at PSU and beyond.”

Because Mandaville doesn’t feel the process is currently collaborative, she does not approve of the way the mission statement is worded.

Jon Joiner, interim director of the Multicultural Center who acts as leader of the meetings, opposes parliamentary procedure, as does Paulette Watanabe, director of educational equity programs and services. If the permanent board wants parliamentary procedure, that is its business, Joiner said. For this exploratory phase, he wants collaboration.

“I believe strongly in collaborative work. It makes everyone a stakeholder.”

Watanabe agrees. “Those meetings are not formal meetings,” she said.

Joiner pointed out that the renovated space for the Multicultural Center is being segmented into three areas representing varying interests of multicultural students. One will be a lounge for students, complete with TV. One will be a multicultural resource area with non-traditional books and other materials, plus computers. The third will be a meeting space for anyone who wants to meet there. The completion date for renovation is set for October.

Joiner sees the center as “A safe place for students and faculty of color,” and also “an open forum for everyone, regardless of ethnicity, political and social background.”

To Mandaville, this means, she said, “The majority of the space is really just another meeting room.”

Mandaville also commented that the only student other than she at the meeting walked out before the meeting ended. This is confirmed by that student, Laura Campos. Campos says she walked because of the haggling.

“There was too much tension to really resolve anything,” she said. “The wires somehow got crossed. I think it’s just a communication problem.”

Campos predicts that the disagreements will be smoothed out with appropriate conversation.

Watanabe, like Campos, believes calm discussion can iron out the disagreements.

Joiner sees a complete draft of the revised by-laws ready for assessment by student groups and institutions in the fall.

“Hopefully, we’ll have something fully accepted by the middle of the quarter,” he said. “It’s by no means a done deal now. We welcome anybody on the campus who would like to help us structure the Multicultural Center.” That would include joining the deliberative group, which is serving as the interim board and two committees, administrative and programming.