United through Diversity

Jasreen Gupta/New University

Having met favorable results in last year’s referendum, UC Irvine will have a new center for its Student Outreach and Retention (SOAR) program.

Many students might recognize the once empty and seemingly derelict offices located behind permanently locked doors, right below the Gateway computer labs across from Langson Library. Those same offices will become the new home for SOAR, boasting a multi-purpose room, computer stations and a study lounge, all free for UCI students to use along with a vast collection of useful resources for helping students reach out into the community.

“This place came about through activism from students who wanted to see a place on campus that supported all students, including underrepresented minorities, first-generation and low-income students.” said SOAR Director Graciela Fernandez, Ph.D. “They got together and wanted to see a center that was a one-stop shop where students can come by with any questions and any concerns, where they will be helped or directed to resources on campus.”

SOAR’s main purpose is to establish a space where students can go to find access to useful tools to help them develop into well-rounded students who can succeed academically and socially.

At the same time, the SOAR center also hopes to increase diversity by giving back to the community in the form of support for student organizations.

“I got involved last year. I actually got involved a couple of months before the referendum passed and all through the referendum,” said Tania Reza, SOAR volunteer and third-year art history and social ecology double major at UCI. “I think the more meetings I attended, the more I got involved, the more invested I became in this center.”

Last year’s spring referendum proved to be a near success for SOAR’s hope to become an established resource center for UCI students.

According to Veeral Katheria, a fourth-year biology major and volunteer at the SOAR center, a 60 percent majority vote was needed from 25 percent of UCI’s student population for the initiative to have passed, which would have increased quarterly fees for UCI students by $1.99 in order to fund the entire program.

The final results for the vote exceeded the required 60 percent majority for pro-SOAR votes, but slightly less than 25 percent of the entire student body voted. As a result, the criteria were not met and the initiative failed to pass.

“At the time, interim vice-chancellor Dr. Parham saw the need for the space and also heard the students’ desire to have a space like this, and he was aligned with it and supported it. He worked in collaboration with the Center for Educational Partnership, so he put money forward for three years. He said, ‘Students really wanted this space, they got the majority vote, so let’s give them funds and let’s generate a center for them to do their work,’” said Director Fernandez.

“Our work now,” continued Fernandez, “is to be successful and to demonstrate to the university that we are needed here on campus. I want the center to become a safe space for all students, a space of empowerment, a space where students feel like their opinions are valued and honored, and a space where every single student that walks in here knows that they are holders and creators of knowledge and experience, and that they too can contribute to UCI.”

Boasting its own office, computers and funded by the Office of the Vice Chancellor, SOAR has become a reality, a center that exists with the hopes of extending a mentoring hand into local schools and communities while also providing a cornerstone of resources that UCI students can turn to in times of need.