Five months after making a $250,000 contribution to Makuu: The Black Cultural Center, UMOJA, and the Center for Africana Studies, Penn Student Government is continuing to urge University administration to increase funding for Black student organizations.
In August, PSG announced the donation of $200,000 to Makuu, of which $150,000 was reserved for UMOJA, and $50,000 for the Center for Africana Studies in an email to undergraduates. The email included a call for Penn to address racial inequality on campus by committing to increase funding for Black student groups on an annual basis to match PSG's $250,000 donation. Since then, however, the University has not committed to increasing future funding, and maintains that it has increased funding over the past several years.
“The University has increased funding for [Makuu and UMOJA] over the past several years,” University spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy wrote in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. “Specific to the Center for Africana Studies, the President and Provost’s Offices provide robust support, support that has gone up every year.”
UMOJA is a member of the 6B, a coalition of groups representing students from marginalized groups on campus. The coalition represents over 30 Black student groups on campus. Makuu, which is currently housed in the basement of the ARCH building, is one of Penn's three cultural houses and serves as a hub for Black students on Penn's campus.
College senior and Undergraduate Assembly President Mercedes Owens said that because of the urgency of other time-sensitive issues this semester, including advocating for more days off after spring break was canceled and extending unlimited opt-in pass/fail grading to spring 2021, the issue of funding for UMOJA and Makuu took a backseat. She added that the UA plans to make the issue a top priority in the coming semester.
Owens added that the UA Executive Board brought the funding issue up with administrators in the Provost's office this spring. While administrators were open to increasing funding on a case-by-case basis for particular initiatives led by UMOJA and Makuu, she said UA leaders pushed back in favor of funding with no strings attached.
College senior and UA Equity and Inclusion Committee Director Kristen Ukeomah agreed, and said that in meetings with Provost Wendell Pritchett and Vice Provost for University Life Mamta Accapadi, she has urged administrators to provide funding to UMOJA in grants instead of money set aside for particular uses.
"Black students should also have the autonomy and agency to just receive funds," Ukeomah said.
Ukeomah said this would help create an equal playing field for Black student organizations with other predominantly white social organizations, including Greek organizations.
“The funding would go toward creating some kind of community for Black students where they feel safe and they actually have the ability to fund their programming,” Owens said.
Owens said the UA’s pitch to the administration this spring will highlight the ways UMOJA and Makuu spent the money in order to show why increased regular funding is necessary.
Makuu Director Brian Peterson wrote in an emailed statement to the DP that Makuu has used a portion of the funds so far on student support, including replacement laptops and other emergency needs. Peterson added that Makuu plans to use the PSG money for similar purposes in the spring, and is looking to help provide students with summer job and internship opportunities.
Ukeomah, who also serves as President of the Black Student League, one of the constituent groups of UMOJA, said BSL used some of the PSG funds to pay off the group's debt from a formal held in the previous school year. Ukeomah said she is unsure of how BSL will use the remaining funds from the PSG donation this semester, as plans will depend on the circumstances of the pandemic and lockdowns.
Owens said that the UA has encouraged administrators to meet with the member groups of the 6B individually going forward to address each group's needs, rather than all together. She hopes that these individual meetings will push the administration to take UMOJA’s requests more seriously.
“We're just trying to make sure that we're on the same page both internally as student organizations and that we're on the same page when we go to present these ideas to [administration],” Owens said.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.