Cultural Centers still without full-time coordinators

by Ben Hernandez

Both the The Umoja Center for Pan African Student Excellence and El Centro Académico Cultural de Humboldt are still looking for professional coordinators.

El Centro is an academic cultural center here on campus which works mainly with students of Latin American descent in developing plans for academic success that honor and respect their cultural values. According to Cal Poly Humboldt’s Institutional Research, Analytics, and Reporting (IRAR), in Fall of 2023, about 29% of campus or 1,750 students identified as Hispanic or Latino.

In June of 2023, Fernando Paz left his role as coordinator of El Centro. Paz started in 2017 as an interim coordinator for El Centro, and has since moved on to working as a Campus and Community Coordinator at the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) at Cal Poly Humboldt.

After Paz had left, Brianna Rodriguez served as El Centro’s academic advisor until Nov. 17 of the same year.

Fernando Paz explained in a recent interview that the role of professional coordinators are essential “to the success of our students in regards to student services and student life.”

“I think that the coordinator position is critically important as a Hispanic Serving Institution”, Paz said. He compared pan dulce to the cultural center itself and the role of a professional coordinator to beans and rice.

“A metaphor that I used a lot was the difference between ‘ser pan dulce y el arroz y frijoles,’ ” said Paz. “Pan dulce is that cultural artifact, ‘ah que bonito, sabe rico’. But you can’t live off pan dulce. If you eat pan dulce everyday of your life, you’re not gonna be very healthy. If you eat beans and rice everyday, that’s complete protein. That’s gonna nourish you”

Melissa Hutsell, of Cal Poly Humboldt’s Marketing and Communications office, said that the “El Centro coordinator position is currently open and we are actively looking for candidates.” At present, the job posting of El Centro Coordinator is still active on Salary.com, with a monthly salary range of $4,226 – $6,010 .

Douglas Smith, the previous coordinator of Umoja and CPH graduate, left his position late Oct. 2023. He went on to work for Pasadena City College, where he took on a new position as Black Student Success Specialist.

The Umoja center is an academic cultural center at CPH which primarily works with the school’s pan-African student population and aims to uplift and support its students academically, professionally and personally through advising and mentorship. Again, according to IRAR, about 158 students identified as being African American out of a student population of 5,976.

Students who are a part of these cultural centers have had to turn to their fellow students for leadership in the meantime. Kaylon Coleman, a student assistant who works at the Umoja center, said,“Before he left (Douglas) was like, ‘Keep on doing what you guys are doing, you know, you’ve been here, you know the ropes’, but in terms of our services, it’s been roughly the same.”

Coleman said that Douglas shared the reason why he left before he did.

“He said ‘If I got some extra compensation so I wouldn’t be struggling, I’d be willing to stay, I’d want to stay,’” said Coleman. “But I guess they just couldn’t find it in the budget to increase (his pay), and so he had to go somewhere where his talents were appreciated and valued.”

Harrelle Deshazier is leading Umoja in an interim capacity as an academic advisor. They said that even though “being an academic advisor requires [them] to be present for students as they navigate their own versions of success semester by semester,” that’s what keeps them going.

“It is, in fact, the joy that I find in providing that support that has carried me throughout my career as an educator, ” said Deshazier. “While the position requires me to balance both job titles. I have confidence that I can preserve the bandwidth needed to do the good work that I am called to do, while still finding the joy in it”

Director of the Office of Student Life, Ravin Craig, is filling in as interim coordinator for both El Centro and the Umoja Center. Craig did not comment in time for publication.

“(Cultural Centers) need professional staff that can provide the sustenance that’s gonna make students healthy,” said Paz.
“Whether it’s a coordinator or a director, they need somebody. A director is ideal, but a coordinator is good…There’s the ideal and then there’s what’s possible.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to clarify that Melissa Hutsell is with Cal Poly Humboldt Marketing and Communications office.

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