Student groups within the University of Connecticut are currently adjusting to Chief Diversity Officer Joelle Murchison’s homecoming directive from last spring, which discouraged student groups from participating in homecoming under cultural center titles.
Murchison’s announcement incited outrage in several factions last spring. Several students called for Murchison to be put on probation over the issue, citing a lack of transparency in the decision-making process and a lack of respect towards students.
Murchison stated that much of the controversy was due to miscommunication between her, the students and the cultural center directors.
“I think that the issue was…. clouded to begin with,” Murchison said. “There was never any intent to prevent any clubs using chants, or the legacy that the cultural centers want to preserve.”
The original aim of the decision was to promote inclusivity for students who may not be affiliated with the cultural centers, Murchison said.
“What I’d like for (students) to do is be mindful that, in some instances, by using the center’s names, some students are not included,” Murchison said. “If, for example, a group of students affiliated with the Women’s Center wanted to march, (but)... the Women’s Center isn’t participating, how could they be included?”
The fact that certain centers don’t participate further adds to the issue of inclusion, Murchison said.
“The Rainbow Center… doesn’t have a float, and the Women’s Center doesn’t participate at all,” Murchison said. “So… how can (a student) not affiliated with those centers participate in homecoming? What we were trying to do was to suggest that students have more of a role.”
Murchison compared the issue to the recent public pressure to remove Confederate statues from public places in the south, stating that a historical precedence or practice is not always in the best interest of the community.
“I am not one to think we should always do something because we’ve always done it,” Murchison said. “Change is not easy. Not ever. But it’s how we grow.”
Murchison encouraged students to “leverage their creativity” in making homecoming inclusive to those not affiliated with the cultural centers and reaffirmed that the resources, including meeting spaces and funding, had not changed or been reallocated.
The cultural center directors were not available for comment.
Several cultural center student leaders expressed that they hope to move with the directive and are now at work on their plans for this year’s homecoming.
“So since (last spring), I know with (FASA, the Filipino American Student Association and PAC, the Pan Asian Council) and AsACC (the Asian American Cultural Center), we’re just trying to move forward with this and we’re trying to do what’s best for us at this point,” FASA co-president, PAC co-fundraiser chair and seventh-semester economics major Ryan Verano said. “But we still advocate for the participation and involvement of the cultural centers in homecoming in whatever way that they will be participating, even though we can’t use the cultural center names anymore.”
Verano said he believes that students who participate in AsACC might take part in homecoming this year under PAC signage.
“On AsACC’s behalf, we will probably be under (PAC),” Verano said. “I know that’s a program directive under (AsACC), so that’s most likely going to be our name and team for homecoming this year.”
PRLACC (Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center) homecoming chair and fifth-semester journalism major Camila Vallejo said last spring that her organization was anxious about the directive.
“I know (Murchison’s directive last spring)…impacted us a lot because homecoming has always been something that we’re very prideful of and that we look forward to. It really brings our centers closer together, and yeah, it creates competition, but it’s never competition that goes to an extreme. It’s always very friendly. And we always get to showcase what we’re all about. It’s actually really important to us,” Vallejo said. “So definitely when we heard about (Murchison’s directive) we were very nervous, thinking that we wouldn’t be able to participate just because we’re part of the cultural centers.”
According to Vallejo, PRLACC will participate in this year’s homecoming under a slightly different name.
“It was just a lot of miscommunication between (Murchison) and the students,” Vallejo said. “And then in the end, it wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Simply, now we don’t necessarily represent ourselves as the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center. Instead we’re the Puerto Rican/Latin American cultural community, which is technically not the name of the center.”
Vallejo said she feels the fact that PRLACC’s homecoming participation is student-led and organized will be emphasized during homecoming this year.
“(PRLACC’s participation in homecoming) has always been student-led. This is why my position exists, because we don’t want to bother (cultural center administrators) in order to get things done. It’s fully my responsibility to make sure we make everything happen,” Vallejo said. “But now it is the Latinx Student Leadership Council, they’re kind of like my boss, they oversee what I’m doing, that’s also student-led...I think now (PRLACC’s participation in homecoming being student-led) is more official and more apparent to the public.”
Undergraduate Student Government Election Oversight Committee chair George Wang stated that Murchison’s stance on cultural center signage should be overturned.
“We are in the beginning stages of forming a coalition to tackle this issue,” Wang said. “There is a lot of interest in this issue and USG wants to address that.”
USG had stated their support for students opposing the directive last spring. Wang said that his issue with the policy is that it was created without student input or direction.
“I think that her (homecoming) decision was a mistake, and I would like to see her suspend this decision,” Wang said. “I can see where (Murchison) is coming from, (however,) this was a decision made without any student input.”
Murchison, in turn, said that she would like homecoming to be more student-directed this year.
“If (the students) choose to name (the floats) after centers, fine,” Murchison said. “I don’t expect the directors to tell students what they have to do. We want the students to take the lead. I do hope that they’re mindful. They can make that decision. If we really want to be an inclusive community, we really need to stop and think about… (whether) there are folks we are excluding.”
To encourage student communication and participation, Murchison said that she plans to facilitate more student involvement with the cultural centers by launching a student advisory committee. The committee will meet once a month and allow for students to voice their ideas and concerns to the cultural center directors and to Murchison’s administrative team.
“The council is a really great way for us not just to rely on the students who are the staff of the cultural centers,” Murchison said. “The decision wasn’t so much of a decision… as it became. (I was) just figuring out a way… for us to be more inclusive.”
Wang has stated his support of the committee idea, and said that Murchison should bring the original directive before the students prior to enforcing it.
“Ultimately, we are advocating for the students,” Wang said. “USG is… advocating for transparency.”
Verano said he feels students who take part in cultural centers demonstrated solidarity last spring in their efforts to advocate for participation in this year’s homecoming under cultural center signage.
“Although (the work to take part in homecoming under cultural center signage of students who participate in cultural centers) kind of went to waste, to put it in a sense, it did show that (students who participate in cultural centers) are able to rally around together for an issue that we believe that we want to stand up for,” Verano said. “Our voices may have been put down for this, but it just shows what a strong unity we have, a community in rallying around for an issue that we believe that it’s worth defending and fighting for.”