Following a review of Yale’s cultural houses revealed the need for more funding to the University’s primary source of diversity programming, students involved with Yale’s cultural organizations have mentioned another obstacle to obtaining the money they seek: the Undergraduate Organizations Committee.
The UOC, a subsidiary of the Yale College Council, is an undergraduate body tasked with distributing annual funding to registered student organizations. According to the UOC website, its mission is to “increase the diversity and vibrancy of undergraduate student life.” But students affiliated with various campus cultural organizations have noted difficulties in obtaining UOC grants for their events, citing rejections of funding requests due to a perceived lack of appeal to the wider campus community. While UOC members interviewed agreed that they take campus appeal into account when considering applications, they denied that there is any bias against cultural organizations. Rather, they said, some cultural events may simply be too insular to qualify for funding.
“We don’t discriminate against groups, and we don’t really consider a group’s purpose or what they do when we consider what money to give,” said UOC Chair Tina Yuan ’16. “We consider the scope and impact of the application. The goal of the UOC is to somehow manipulate funds to give benefits to the largest proportion of undergraduates.”
She added that 20 to 30 percent of funding each year usually goes to cultural groups, pointing to events like Roshni — the South Asian Society’s annual cultural show — which received $3,000 in UOC funds last year, because it attracts a wide audience base.
But several students interviewed said this appeal-based approach can exclude cultural groups who have an inherent audience — and yet also want to share their culture with others.
Candice Hwang ’16, who served as co-moderator of the Asian American Students Alliance and treasurer of the Chinese Adopted Siblings Program for Youth, was denied UOC funding for a CASPY event last year. The rejection email she received explained that “the barrier to participation [was] too high to make [the event] open and welcome to the entire school.”
“Just because an event is primarily attended by Asian-American students doesn’t mean that it isn’t serving the Yale population,” Hwang said. “Asian-American students are still Yalies like any other students on campus. Even if Asian-American events were only attended by Asian-American students — which isn’t true — it is still serving the Yale community and thus deserving of UOC funding.”
La Casa student coordinator Evelyn Nuñez ’15 said she has encountered similar challenges in securing funding for La Casa-affiliated events. She said the UOC will not directly fund many La Casa events because they are not catered to the entire Yale community — a charge that Nuñez denied — or because the UOC can not “comfortably fund” food, although food is very important to cultural events.
Yuan acknowledged that the UOC imposes a $100 cap on food for administrative funding, but explained that administrative funding is supposed to be used for clubs’ internal affairs. Special event funding has no cap for food, she said, adding that this type of award is actually easier to win. But organizations apply for it less frequently, she said, because it requires more planning.
Rather than focusing on an organization’s mission — political, cultural or service-oriented — or on the nature of a group’s funding request — food, decorations or advertising — the UOC focuses on how many people are likely to benefit from the event, Yuan said. If a proposed event will only appeal to a specific subset of students, it is unlikely to receive money.
She said the UOC determines how large the audience is likely to be by looking at indicators such as Facebook events or past attendance rates.
“As students, at the UOC, we are very in touch with the Yale community, and so we know which groups are more active than others and which are putting on events that will have more interest and attendance from the student body,” said UOC member Brian Lei ’16.
Dana Lee ’17, co-moderator of AASA, acknowledged that her organization has usually been able to obtain funding for its larger events, such as its annual Night Market, which takes place outdoors in Library Walk between Branford and Jonathan Edwards Colleges.
The problem that cultural groups encounter in receiving UOC funding, then, may not be one of UOC bias but one of perceived inclusivity and interest to the rest of the student body. According to a News survey of 422 students last month, 27 percent of students felt that the cultural centers and their events were exclusive to students not formally associated with that culture. An additional 37 percent had no opinion, and 36 percent did not feel the centers were exclusive.
Esther Portyansky ’16 said that while she does not perceive cultural groups as exclusive, she does not think people who are not formally affiliated with them are particularly encouraged to participate either. Giving them more funding might actually help them appeal to a wider audience, she said.
Duncan Tomlin ’16 said in his survey response that while he would “never actively choose” to participate in cultural center activities, if people are interested in such activities they should be able to do so.
Hwang acknowledged that people might perceive barriers to attending cultural events and that Asian-American events are primarily attended by Asian-American students, but added that cultural groups have made concerted efforts to invite non-affiliated students to their events.
Still, Heidi Guzman ’14 said attendance should not factor in to the UOC’s funding decisions. Guzman wrote an editorial in the News entitled “A Racialized Rejection” last year after her request for special event funding was denied on the grounds that a panel on Latinos in higher education would only interest Dominicans and Latinos.
“Why should funding be denied for very arcane sorts of events? Very few events would appeal to a wide audience at Yale, because Yale is so diverse,” she said. “[The UOC’s decision] should be more about if [the event] is something that will enrich Yale in some way. They are limited based on their funding, but maybe they should be thinking about different parameters for accepting or denying applications, based on something that seems less arbitrary than relevance.”