President promises to provide funding to closed Latino engagement center

Daisy Aguilar

Sacramento State’s Serna Center, which has served many Latino students on campus, is temporarily closed this semester due to unstable funding.

Traditionally, centers open on campus with the intent of being self-supported, but the Serna Center struggled to raise enough funds.

“The Center had been funding itself, but during the recession, funds were depleted,” said former Serna Center interim director Manuel Barajas. “Nonetheless, (we) did the best we could to keep it going.”

Barajas, who was the last interim director of the center from fall 2012 until spring, said directors attempted to raise funds to keep the center open, but the workload became too much.

Over the past few years, directors have spent an excessive amount of time fundraising at the expense of the center’s activities, yet continued to struggle with providing stable funds.

As a result, the Serna Center will remain closed until a new director is hired.

Barajas said he struggled throughout his time as interim director because his work piled up.

Barajas taught full time, oversaw graduate students’ thesis work, fulfilled the center’s mission of supporting students and found ways to fundraise for the center.

Barajas and faculty expressed concern to Sac State President Alexander Gonzalez.

“We talked to the president about what we needed to do in the long run given the situation,” said former director Ted Lascher.

Lascher is currently dean of the College of Social Sciences and Interdisciplinary Studies.

After years of concern for the center from faculty, Gonzalez announced he would address the problem.

“I will provide the center with a source of central funding,” Gonzalez said in a memo sent to all vice presidents and deans last month. “At the same time, I will require that the center expand its focus in its future programming and scholarly efforts, with an eye toward serving the entire University and larger community.”

The Serna Center was named after late Sacramento mayor and professor Joe Serna and his wife, the late university administrator and professor Isabel Hernandez Serna.

Joe Serna died in 1999 and Isabel Hernandez Serna passed the following year.

Since 2003, the Serna Center has provided support, political knowledge, activism, engagement and social and cultural events with a focus on primarily, but not solely, Latino students.

“The Center has fulfilled its mission,” Lascher said. “The Center has been able to support some really good things and events. It’s provocative, gotten people engaged, gave students some opportunity and supported some research that was applied.”

Barajas said the Serna Center is needed because it serves as a resource for Latino students compensating for the low number of Latino faculty.

According to the U.S Census Bureau, Latinos are the largest minority group in the country and among the fastest growing population.

“[Latinos] are becoming the great majority; we’re the future,” Barajas said. “But we have no representation in very important institutions like higher education.”

According to Sac State’s Office of Institutional Research, Latino faculty made up 6.6 percent of the university’s faculty in fall 2012.

This semester, Latino students make up 21.4 percent of the student body.

“Everyone should be able to help all the students, but that’s not how things work,” Barajas said. “It does make a difference in who’s teaching the students. The curriculum reflects the instructor’s experiences.”

The center was successful last spring by inviting renowned scholars to address issues such as immigration, deportation and diversifying faculty.

“The Serna Center has to be relevant to our campus (and) to our committees,” Barajas said. “And that’s what we tried to do. It was beautiful. The issues we addressed were relevant to students and there was a lot of student participation.”

Barajas said these events attracted nearly 200 attendees.

Eddie Triste, 32, sociology major, who is also the student coordinator for the center said these events addressed issues that are controversial and not often discussed.

“We can focus on adding context to something we just hear about in a class for a little bit,” Triste said. “It’s a mini-class in itself.”

At one point, student participation dipped until the center hired student coordinators to help make events more popular, utilizing connections with student organizations on campus.

Sandra Ruiz, criminal justice major, 22, was a student coordinator for the Serna Center.

Along with Triste and Barajas, Ruiz was in charge of planning all the center’s events.

“It gave me an opportunity to help bring awareness to this campus on some issues that should not only be important to the Latino community but to other communities,” Ruiz said.

She said the center is important to keep because it is a resource Latinos can count on. She believes there are not enough resources available for them on campus.

Triste said he believes the Serna Center is pivotal, because it serves as voice for Chicano and Latino students.

“The whole legacy of Joe Serna and his wife Isabel was to add the Chicano voice that wasn’t there,” Triste said. “The Chicano students are a big population on campus, and to not have those outlets of resources to fight for them is marginalizing them.”