Illustration by Sabrina Ilumin

A list of demands submitted by the Black Student Union (BSU) at UC Santa Cruz put approval of a Student Union Assembly (SUA) committee charged with distributing $200,000 in basic needs scholarships on hold May 21. The SUA voted unanimously to adopt the demands. 

“We the BSU, with direct communication from the other four big ethnic orgs, were not included in any discussion regarding the structure, workflow or workload, nor the bylaws [of this committee],” said BSU vice president Colby Riley, reading the demands aloud at the SUA meeting. “[…] The SUA will not continue to take credit for, nor request labor from its communities of color without compensation.”

Dubbed the Executive Committee on Student Housing Appropriations (CSHA), the body was charged with distributing $200,000 granted by the UC Office of the President (UCOP) to address student housing concerns on and off campus. The SUA allotted half the committee’s 10 seats to representatives from UCSC’s Big Five ethnic organizations — a decision reached without their permission, the BSU alleges.

BSU’s demands included a halt on approval of the CSHA until the SUA organizes formal meetings with each of the Big Five ethnic organizations, a hold on the money designated to the proposed committee and the SUA’s commitment to boost communication efforts with campus organizations.

The adoption of BSU’s demands raises the question of whether or not the SUA will be able to approve bylaws amenable to the Big Five before the end of the academic year. Although SUA President Ayo Banjo, the proposal’s main sponsor, presented a draft document before the assembly’s May 28 meeting, SUA representatives have only one week to deliberate with their constituents before their final spring meeting. 

Davon Thomas, SUA vice president of external affairs, said the short amount of time between the presentation of the bylaws and the deadline to vote on the committee proposal leaves the SUA with little spare time to converse with the ethnic organizations. 

“I do not know how possible it is to get all this fixed in the next two weeks,” Thomas said. “I hate to say it, but some things have to wait until fall.”

Postponement puts over half a year of negotiations at risk. Originally brought before the SUA in mid-December 2018, the Division of Student Success (DSS) — the body in charge of distributing UCOP’s earmarked funds — set a Jan. 11 deadline for the SUA to draft a use proposal for the $200,000 package. 

This began a protracted exchange between the SUA, the DSS and their middleman, the Dean of Students (DOS). Banjo said his goal to secure full authority over the UCOP’s funding package was a complicating factor in the negotiations, hence the monthslong timeframe.

Then, in a campuswide email sent April 4, the SUA announced that it had secured near-full authority over the UCOP fund, to be granted to students facing housing discrimination and rent hikes. Banjo said that from the beginning of these negotiations, he intended to grant control of the fund to a committee pulled from members of the SUA and the Big Five ethnic organizations, and not the SUA as a whole. But he said these terms were not guaranteed to carry over into the next school year. 

“I really want to confirm these bylaws before we leave so there is no excuse about why officers next year use this money to build, say, a basic needs center, instead of allocating the funds directly to students,” Banjo said.

This leaves the communication issues between the SUA and the Big Five organizations unresolved. BSU Vice President Colby Riley said in the time since the April 4 announcement, SUA failed to organize official talks with BSU representatives, and did not announce its plans to any of the remaining Big Five organizations prior to the May 21 meeting. 

“The idea was brought to us by Ayo on very conversational terms,” Riley said. “If he saw us on the street he’d be like, ‘Hey, what’s going on? I got this idea,’ and we’d be like, ‘Okay, cool. Let’s meet and actually talk about it.’ That didn’t happen for weeks, until we found out that he was going to be presenting the bylaws this week.”

But whether the stir of controversy will mend relations between the SUA and the Big Five organizations remains yet to be seen. As it stands, a vote on the new committee proposal is on the books for the final week of spring quarter.