Dozens of University of Connecticut students are calling for Chief Diversity Officer Joelle Murchison to be placed on probation in light of her recent statements regarding cultural center participation in next year’s homecoming activities.
Murchison, who was hired last year after an extensive search process, recently released a statement saying the cultural centers would not be allowed to participate in the homecoming parade, and that only student organizations within the cultural centers could participate. Murchison said the decision was made with other cultural center administrators in order to put more focus on student groups in homecoming, since it is a student-centered event.
Murchison argued that homecoming season results in academic performance suffering. She said students involved in cultural centers are already at an “academic disadvantage,” and thus should not participate in any events, according to USG legislation from April 12.
“What we did decide was that the centers, which are administrative, would not be moving forward (with Homecoming floats),” Murchison said. “It would be akin to the Bursar’s office having a float.”
While the floats can no longer bear the signage of the cultural centers, Murchison said, student organizations within the cultural centers, such as the Pan Asian Council, can still participate and use the centers’ resources.
“We’re not changing anything in terms of funding, or using the centers to rehearse or store supplies,” Murchison said. “The only change would be with the sign that the students march with.”
However, for many students, the distinction of the cultural center title is a unifying factor.
“If (Murchison) looked at our history, she’d know that we started out as organizations that grew, and became recognized by the administration,” said Ana Ocasio, an eighth-semester human development and family studies major who is involved with the Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC). “We’re not Dining Services. We’re not the Bursar’s Office. It’s not that we put PRLACC on our signs because we operate out of (it). It’s because there’s unity behind those names.”
Students claimed that the decision was made without any student input, despite Murchison’s comment about homecoming being a student-centered activity.
“It’s a decision that she made behind closed doors,” said Ryan Verano, the Filipino American Student Association Pan Asian Council (FASA PAC) representative and a sixth-semester economics major. “She didn’t come and talk to the students...about their perceptions and feelings on it, when we the cultural center students are the ones directly affected by the directive.”
Several students, including Ocasio, attended the board of trustees meeting Wednesday in order to discuss the matter, and demand Murchison be put on probation in light of what they perceived to be her insensitivity toward students, as well as her recent decision.
“We demand that she be put on a probationary period for a semester with a student review board, that will then assess if she is fit to be here or not,” Ocasio said. “I think this is much more than homecoming. It’s more about how Joelle interacts with students. She is extremely disrespectful.”
USG has stated their support for the cultural centers’ continued participation in Homecoming under the centers’ signage. USG recently passed legislation titled “A Joint Resolution Regarding the Participation of Cultural Centers in Homecoming” to voice their solidarity.
“I do plan, even though I will no longer be the USG speaker, to follow through on this (legislation) because I do believe that it does have an impact on the way things are,” USG Election Oversight Committee chair George Wang said. “I think that a lot of (Murchison’s) reasons for her decision are not necessarily good reasons. And ultimately I think the end goal will be for us to get this decision reversed.”
USG President Irma Valverde, who was present at the meeting, said that Murchison’s lack of transparency in her decision is concerning.
“The chief diversity officer should be speaking with students before a decision like this is made, that clearly impacts students on campus,” Valverde said.
Murchison said students should speak to their cultural center directors if they have concerns, and that this decision did not need “large-scale student input.”
“I don’t really believe this to be as significant an issue as (the students) make it out to be,” Murchison said.
Verano said he feels that Murchison should reconsider the decision, and involve students in the administrative process.
“I think we’re being wrongly punished for this, for circumstances out of our control, out of our reach,” Verano said. “We like to talk about progression within our community. ... I think we’re taking 100 steps back if this decision is ultimately going to pull through.”
Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. She tweets @marlese_lessing.
Alexandra Retter is staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Note: News Editor Christopher McDermott contributed to this report.