It’s $35,000 of your and your parents’ hard-earned money. It’s allocated by a board of people you’ve never met, to events you seldom hear about, without any public records or accountability. Worst of all, it doesn’t fulfill its official reason for existence — all it does is line the pockets of six powerful coalitions at Penn. It’s called the Intercultural Fund, and it should be redirected to its original mission — interculturalism — fast.
In the last decade, the six minority coalitions — the Latino Coalition, the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, the Lambda Alliance, the Penn Consortium of Undergraduate Women, UMOJA and the United Minorities Council — have labored mightily to create an Intercultural Fund. The Fund was inspired by Tangible Change, a committee of 20 group representatives allocating roughly $40,000 to events bringing groups together. It originally sought to fill in a blank in T-Change’s criteria, focusing on bringing disparate cultures together as well as uniting disparate groups.
But a shared, lofty goal toward collaboration is where the similarity between T-Change and the ICF ends. Unlike T-Change, which will give money to any group, this Intercultural Fund is open only to groups that are already members of one of the six minority coalitions. Unlike T-Change, which is governed by the six minority coalitions plus 14 other groups, the ICF consists only of the finance vice chairpeople of those six minority coalitions.
This is a $35,000 fund dedicated solely to one subset of groups at Penn, governed by those groups with no accountability to anyone but themselves. That may be why none of the groups I contacted were willing to comment, citing the fund’s future as being up in the air.
Remember: all minority-focused groups at Penn have Student Activities Council funding. They have Social Planning and Events Committee funding for their major events, often line itemed by the Undergraduate Assembly. They can even apply to T-Change. Yet, it seems for a select set of groups on this campus, all that support is not enough. They need an extra $35,000. For them. Not for, say, an external group wanting to put on an event focused on race dialogues. That’s not the point. It’s the coalitions’ money.
What drives me most crazy about the sordid state of the ICF is that there are amazing intercultural programs at Penn that could really use that $35,000. I sat down with Valerie De Cruz, the director of the Greenfield Intercultural Center, who described the Center’s myriad, nationally leading co-curricular partnerships like Alliance and Understanding. The program brings Black and Jewish students together to explore civil rights and intercultural leadership in our nation’s history. Programs like these are thoughtful and long term. As De Cruz put it, “Intercultural programs are most useful when students can build relationships, gain understanding and be part of networks outside of their communities.” But then our conversation turned to resources. “We do a lot with what we have,” De Cruz said, but with only three professional staff members, “there’s only so much you can do.”
Now imagine if we took the Intercultural Fund and used it as the foundation of a new staff position at the GIC, increasing its total staff by 33 percent. In one fell swoop, you would almost certainly create more long-term interculturalism than accomplished in the past three years of ICF misallocation. Even if you accept the ICF’s event selections as legitimate, spending the money on more staff for the GIC is a sounder, stronger means of building interculturalism.
Thankfully, this unhappy state of affairs can change, and change quickly. Indeed, the minority coalitions are currently in the middle of their election season. I urge the new leadership of the minority coalitions to, at a minimum, divest themselves of sole control of the Intercultural Fund and work with the University to use that money to promote true interculturalism at Penn.
Alec Webley is a College senior from Melbourne, Australia. He is the former chairman of the Undergraduate Assembly. His e-mail address is webley@theDP.com. Smart Alec appears on Thursdays.Comments powered by Disqus
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