Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute

The Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute (CHI) was established to be a campus community collaborative dedicated to the study and celebration of the cultural heritage, diversity, and contributions of California’s Central Valley. The Institute was committed to engaging the community in the process of developing a more culturally competent citizenry. The Institute provided an open environment and effective processes that welcomed difficult dialogue on controversial issues and topics that affect our communities.

Before the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute was established, the concept of developing a place on campus that was devoted to issues of diversity, culture and heritage had been a part of the university for at least a decade. From 1993 to 2003 various attempts were made to formalize such an entity.

In the fall of 1993, Tom Nadelin of the University Religious Center, Phyllis Redfield and Walter Robinson of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, and Vida Samiian of Arts and Humanities invited member of the campus community to gather and discuss “advancing the idea of a cross-cultural center” on the campus. A proposal was presented for to “dedicating the (University Religious) Center’s entireprogramming to the needs and to the promises inherent in cross-cultural issues.” Although sporadic conversations continued, nothing tangible came of this attempt.

On August 23, 1997 a hate crime occurred across the street from the university that set in motion the eventual establishment of the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute. According to a 2001 Los Angeles Times article:

Malcolm Boyd, a black student whose 1997 beating touched off a period of racial discord that intensified during a Ku Klux Klan rally at the university, now lives with his mother in Southern California. He suffered brain damage and remains partially blind as a result of being hit in the head with a pipe, said his lawyer, Jacob Weisberg

Determined to have something good come out of this tragedy, concerned students, faculty, staff, and administrators and community members began meeting to discuss the establishment of a multicultural center on the campus of Fresno State. Key to this movement were individuals such as Carole Snee of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management, Vida Samiian of Arts and Humanities, Tom Nadelin of the University Religious Center, Francine Oputa of the Women’s Resource Center and many, many more.

The group, although changing in composition, continued meeting for several years calling itself the Multicultural Center Planning Group. The group organized events and activities around culture, heritage, and diversity. There were no funds earmarked for programming. As a result, activities were done as collaborations between various campus groups such as Student Activities, the Women’s Resource Center, Ethnic Studies, various student clubs and organizations and many others. A sign in sheet for a December 6, 2001 “Meeting with Student Groups to Discuss the Concept of a Multicultural Center” included representatives from: Teatro T.O.R.T.I.L.L.A., M.E.C.H.A, Rentry Students Association, Trabajadores de La Raza, University Student Union Staff, Chicano and Latin American Studies Dept., Women’s Resource Center, Associate Provost Office, Health Center, CSBCSC, Women’s Alliance, USU Board and Community Service, The fact that there was no staff whose specific job was to do diversity programming or develop a cross-cultural or multi-cultural center made it very difficult to move a project forward. However, members of the campus community were determined to not allow the concept die.

In 2003, based on the suggestion of William Hunt from the Office of Grants and Research, the group submitted a proposal to the university to establish the Central Valley Cultural Heritage Institute as an Ancillary Unit of the university. In July of that year, then President John Welty approved the application and the Cultural Heritage Institute became an official Fresno State entity.

Although the institute was now established, there was still no funding for dedicated staff. However, for three consecutive years Associated Students, Inc., gave $50K to support the development of the institute. This allowed us to hire three extremely capable graduate assistants, Rebecca Aleman, Rasha Mohammed, and Matilde Gonzalez, to keep moving the work forward. It also allowed for funds for programs, events and activities.

The leadership of the organization was shared by three individuals Vida Samiian, the Associate Dean of Arts and Humanities, Carole Snee, then Director of Services for Students withDisabilities, and Francine Oputa, then Coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center. A steering committee was established to be its governing body. Its members included the deans from the College of Social Science, the College of Arts and Humanities, and the College of Health and Human Services. Also on the committee were several community members, students, and other university staff members. The co-chairs of the committee were Jeri Echeverria, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Paul Oliaro, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management.

In 2006 the steering committee was challenged by Cynthia George one of its members from the community to decide if the institute was truly a priority for the university. If it was a priority, she believed it then needed a director and dedicated financial support from the university.

Her messages was heard and heeded. That year the Vice-Presidents for the Division of Academic Affairs and the Division of Student Affairs and Enrollment Management jointly funded a director’s position and operating expenses for the institute. The Institute’s staffing consisted of a director and 2 student assistants. Existing clerical support from the Women’s Resource Center was available to assist in the day to day operations.