This past summer, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, a Carleton alumnus anonymously posted on the @dearpwi (Dear Predominantly White Institutions) Instagram page about how the Carleton Student Association (CSA) continually underfunded Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) student organizations and multicultural events.
Specifically, the post cited how the CSA did not fund a trip led by the Office of International and Intercultural Life (OIIL) to visit Civil Rights monuments, while in the same meeting they did approve funding for a leadership trip planned by the majority white men’s ultimate frisbee team.
This post led members of the CSA Budget Committee to propose creating a $30,000 Cultural Fund Group to support community-building and events for student-led cultural organizations.
“We want to ensure that we are providing the necessary funds for cultural organizations to build community,” said CSA President Andrew Farias ’21.
CSA Vice-President and Budget Committee Chair Brittany Dominguez ’21 led the project, which initially proposed to reallocate funds from Spring Concert, which usually costs around $45,000, to the Cultural Organization Fund. While OIIL does provide funds for cultural organizations, Dominquez explained that the CSA Cultural Organization Fund would work to supplement funds provided by OIIL and expand available funding.
CSA could have implemented this new fund without input from the student body, however, Dominguez explained that she “really wanted to hear student voices and opinions about the matter.” Therefore, in the fall of 2020, the proposal to create a new Cultural Organization Fund using money from Spring Concert was put to a student body vote.
The proposal posited bringing a headliner to Spring Concert only every fourth year and featuring only local bands in the remaining years—with the savings used to create the Cultural Organization Fund.
Only 35% of students participated in the vote, and the proposal ultimately failed to meet the two-thirds majority necessary to pass, obtaining a close 63% approval.
“Just because the initial motion failed didn’t mean we wanted to abandon the notion as a whole,” said Farias. Therefore, Dominquez and others worked to re-imagine how a Cultural Organization Fund could be adopted into the CSA’s Budget.
At the start of the new financial cycle in June, Dominguez and other members of the Budget Committee were able to put together a savings plan to create the Cultural Organization Fund with $55,000 and reserve money to add to the fund in coming years. Dominguez explained that the money allocated was mainly incurred from savings that went back to CSA due to decreases in spending both this year and last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, savings were incurred from the cancellation of Spring Concert last year and from a lower rate of spending on CSA activities. Dominquez estimated that in total CSA has saved around $500,000. These savings not only allow for the creation of the Cultural Organization Fund but also make it possible for CSA to lower the activities fee, donate more money for causes such as the Carleton Cupboard and Winter Wardrobe, and make up for lost funds due to the elimination of laundry fees in 2019.
Dominquez said that each year CSA can spend up to $30,000 of the fund, and every year during Spring Allocations the Budget Committee will add enough money to the fund to bring it back up to at least $30,000.
The Cultural Organization Fund will open up possibilities to provide new types of funding to cultural organizations that Budget Committee previously did not offer. For example, the Budget Committee does not fund personal items, such as T-shirts, and only funds food for events that are open to the entire campus.
Farias said the Cultural Organization Fund will make an exception for cultural organizations in order to help them “find healing, build solidarity, and build community.” This term, organizations such as LASO (Latin American Student Organization) and MOSAIC (Mosaic of South Asian Interests at Carleton) have already used the fund for care pancakes and to finance T-shirts for organization members who could not afford them.
In order to make sure the Cultural Organization Fund had a degree of permanence, the CSA proposed including the fund within their Constitution. Farias explained that including financial stipulations in the Constitution has never been done before, however, Farias and CSA felt it was necessary in order to make sure that future funding to cultural organizations would not get cut during periods of financial strain.
In order to add the Cultural Organization Fund to the Constitution, a referendum was included in the CSA Election poll sent out on February 21. The referendum read: “Do you support the addition of a CSA Bylaw that stipulates that the CSA Budget Committee must allocate money to ensure the Cultural Organization Fund is filled up to at least $30,000 each year?”
With around 48% of the student population participating in the vote, the referendum passed with 87% of voters in favor, well above the needed two-thirds majority.
“I’m pretty happy that it ended up passing,” said Dominquez, who has worked on this project for several months now. Farias is also glad to see the fund accepted by the student body. “I’m excited that the CSA Cultural Organization Fund is really coming to fruition,” he said.
He added, “It’s incredibly important that we support a Cultural Organization Fund when they need it the most.”
Correction: Feb. 27, 2020 — this article has been updated from the version that appeared in our Feb. 26 print edition to include more specifics on the original proposal to reallocate Spring Concert funds.