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Cal State Fresno Hosts Chicano-Latino Issues Forum

FRESNO, Calif.

Despite the name, California State at Fresno’s first Chicano-Latino Issues Forum isn’t just intended to address problems Chicanos and Latinos face. It’s meant for everyone on campus.

The two-day event is hosted by Chican@Activist for Student Academics, a coalition of Chicano and Latino student organizations. The forum is the first attempt in trying to collaborate with students and gauge what issues they want to discuss, Sarina Iniguez-De La Rosa said.

“We need to begin … to share issues all students are facing,” Iniguez-De La Rosa said. The senior sociology and Chicano and Latin American studies major said problems with receiving financial aid, tuition increases and lack of child care are some of the issues she hears about.

“Regardless of ethnicity, we’re all facing similar issues,” she said. “This is for everybody.”

The forum is to last for 26 hours, from opening ceremonies Thursday at noon to 2 p.m. Friday.

Standing behind the sign-decked information table the organizers set up in the Pit Thursday, Ernesto Saavedra said his purpose was to obtain valuable feedback from students and find out exactly what their concerns are.

Saavedra, a senior psychology major, said Latino students make up 35 percent of the student body at Fresno State, but their representation among the staff was substantially lower.

But Saavedra was particularly concerned about statistics pointing to a drop-out rate of about half among Latino college students.

“Only 50 percent of new [Latino] students end up graduating,” Saavedra said. “It’s ridiculous. Do we want an uneducated majority?”

He described the forum as a grassroots effort to bring these issues to the foreground.

The forum is entirely informal. “If anyone wants to come up and speak or play an instrument, they’re welcome,” Saavedra said.

Student concerns were collected in the form of pieces of paper dropped into a basket.

Iniguez-De La Rosa said the comments they receive will be shared at a future breakfast meeting with Dr. John D. Welty, university president, and Dr. Paul Oliaro, dean of student affairs.

Iniguez-De La Rosa said she hopes to see 250 issues by the end of the forum. As of Thursday afternoon, she said they received about 35 responses.

Saavedra said the group’s original plan was to camp overnight in the Pit, but the university wouldn’t allow it, citing possible site hazards and the cost of extra security.

“The significant thing is, this has never been done before,” Saavedra said of the day-long forum that focuses continually on Latino issues. He said it would be a launching pad for future such events.

“Instead of the stereotypical events like Cinco de Mayo, this event will actually get stuff done,” Saavedra said.

Helping to coordinate some of the events were two organizers who traveled all the way from Berkeley-Valeria Fike-Rosales and Jeremy Bearer-Friend. Familiar with student activism elsewhere, the duo were invited to be speakers at the forum.

Something exciting and different is happening with the Fresno State campaign, Bearer-Friend said.

He said that student groups have yet to successfully fight against continual fee increases, which he said hurts all students but particularly lower-income students. To rectify this, he and other activists are supporting a proposed ballot measure that would stop automatic increases in student fees year after year.

To that end, they said they are coordinating activities with different student organizations, including student governments, Greek clubs and multicultural groups like the ones putting on the forum.

“We haven’t reached out to the academic departments yet, but we will,” Fike-Rosales said.

Bearer-Friend lamented that students who are working full-time may not be eligible for financial aid, but to make ends meet and help pay for an education, many students have to work.

“We don’t know how many people aren’t applying because they can’t afford it,” Bearer-Friend said.

Iñiguez-De La Rosa said the administration may be part of the reason students are apathetic.

“Students don’t think … the university cares,” she said.

She hopes the forum will happen again next year and that it will be a 24-hour summit.

“We have to begin with dialogue in order to reach goals with students,” she said. “In asking questions, we hope to get answers.”

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