Orlando- After motioning to zero-fund Pride Coalition at the Activity & Service Fee budget hearing on Dec. 16, the University of Central Florida (UCF) Student Government Association (SGA) leaders are now proposing to terminate the LGBTQ programming agency altogether.
SGA leaders filed a grievance against Pride Coalition on the first day of classes, Jan. 6, stating that they intended to move forward with disbanding the organization.
The grievance cites Pride Coalition’s zero-funding as the justification for the termination. Student Body President Melissa Westbrook, Vice President/ADSPB Chair Jacob Kahn, Speaker of the Senate Jaclyn Graham, and A&SF Budget Committee Chair Jason Wojkiewicz signed off on the document.
The news of zero-funding and now possible termination for Pride Coalition has come as a shock to students just returning to campus from winter break.
“I was happy to come in to Pride Commons and see everybody and then I heard this news. I couldn’t believe this was happening,” said Rachel Stearns, a transfer student from Daytona State College. “It hit very close to home. Pride Coalition has done so much for me in the past semester and helped me so much transition into college. I don’t know where I’d be without them today.”
Stearns said she is also worried about the future of Pride Commons because she thinks Pride Coalition has been integral to making it a safe space for students.
SGA’s actions were also a surprise to the Pride Coalition’s leadership.
Nicholas Simons, Pride Coalition’s Student Director, said he was not approached by SGA’s leaders prior to the zero-funding motion or the filing of the grievance to help come up with any possible solutions or alternatives to killing the organization.
He received notification of SGA’s intent to terminate Pride Coalition via an email.
“I’m really disappointed in the leadership of SGA because I feel like they did not give us a chance to even operate for a full semester before making this decision,” said Simons. “I feel like they made up their mind long before [Pride Coalition] even started programming.”
UCF SGA President Melissa Westbrook said that in the face of budget shortfalls, the budget committee has had to make some difficult decisions regarding the Activity & Service Fee budget, including whether to make cuts that might cause full-time staff to lose their jobs.
“Never judge someone based off of the decisions they’ve made when you don’t know the options they had to choose from,” said Westbrook.”We aren’t even sure if we can fund paper towels in the bathrooms next year. I could not make a decision that would cause people to lose their jobs.”
When asked why some A&SF-funded agencies and departments have such large budgets while others with smaller budgets like Pride Coalition are being zero-funded and terminated, Westbrook said that UCF’s Recreation & Wellness Center’s (RWC) multi-million dollar budget, for example, is mostly salary and essential operational costs.
“I think it’s absurd that agencies/departments like RWC get $5 million but something like Pride Coalition that also helps multiple populations of students can’t even remain an agency,” said Nicole Dumbroff, a junior statistics major at UCF. “I’m also confused as to why Knight-thon got an increase when everyone else is cutting back or getting de-funded.”
Knight-thon, like Pride Coalition, began operating as a SGA agency in 2013. The A&SF budget committee recommended increasing its budget from $36,675 to $59,216.Â Knight-thon is UCF’s annual charity dance-a-thon, which aims to raise money for Greater Orlando Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
“I’m not saying that any agency is less important than ours, but I think there were other ways to go about fixing the budget,” said Dumbroff. “They could have taken a percentage from every organization. And raising the budget of Knight-thon is definitely counterproductive to dealing with this deficit.”
Westbrook and her staff emphasized that SGA is still supportive of LGBTQ students at UCF.
“We have to make decisions that are in the best interest of the entire student body,” said Vice President Jacob Kahn. “If we weren’t supportive of LGBTQ students, we would not have added $20,000 back to the Multicultural Student Center’s budget.”
Pride Coalition Student Director Simons disagrees with Kahn.
“Not only is Pride Coalition standard across universities, UCF only having Pride Coalition for less than a year is actually behind other universities and terminating the agency is going to be a step backward,” he said.
Westbrook said she thinks redirecting funds to the Multicultural Student Center and not having agencies that support specific minority groups shows that UCF is forward-thinking. Unless UCF doubles its Activity & Service Fee, she said UCF can’t afford to fund minority student agencies similar to how Florida State University or other universities operate.
Simons has two weeks to respond to the grievance and then the board of directors that governs SGA’s agencies will convene to consider the request to terminate Pride Coalition.
Chad Binette, the Associate Director for UCF News & Information, responded via email on behalf of the UCF administration, clarifying that SGA’s motions to zero-fund and terminate Pride Coalition are student recommendations and not the final word on the matter.
“UCF values diversity and inclusiveness, and we are committed to providing services, resources and programs for our LGBTQ students and their allies,” wrote Binette. “This vote [to defund Pride Coalition] by a student committee is only a recommendation. The full Senate will review Activity & Service Fee funding proposals in the spring. The package approved by the Senate is then reviewed by the Vice President for Student Development and Enrollment Services. For an agency to be terminated, it would first require a 2/3 vote from members of the Agency & Department Strategic Planning Board, a board that consists of staff members and students. Then a 2/3 vote of the Student Senate would be required. If either of those votes does not reach the 2/3 threshold, then the agency is not terminated.”
A “Save Pride Coalition at UCF” Facebook page has been created for those who want to show support for Pride Coalition. An emergency A&SF Budget Meeting is scheduled for January 24 at 10 a.m. in the Cape Florida Ballroom. Simons said that agencies that were defunded are getting an opportunity to speak before the A&SF Committee again, to explain the impact the defunding will have on the campus and to provide further recommendations to the committee.