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Asian-American student groups angry at Studio 4

BY CHARLES GREGG-GEIST
Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 20, 2008

Representatives of the United Asian American Organizations and other student groups gathered last night to coordinate a response to what some group leaders say was racial bias from Studio 4 staff.

Leaders of the Chinese Student Association and the Filipino American Student Organization said the bar's staff tried to get out of giving the group their cut of the night's cover charge, treated them poorly and spat on them. The South 4th Avenue nightclub's manager denies the group's charges.

On Nov. 8, CSA and FASA held a fundraising event at the nightclub. They had agreed that the club would get half of the cover charges and the two groups would split the other half.

CSA president Steve Lai said he approached Studio 4 manager Jeff Mangray after the bar closed to collect his cut of the revenue. But, he said, Mangray would only pay Lai for 50 customers.

"He said, 'You guys only brought in 50 Asians,' and he showed me his clipboard with tallies," Lai told about 50 people at the meeting last night in the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library. Lai said Studio 4 staff had been keeping a tally of the number of people who appeared to be of Asian descent as they entered the bar.

But Mangray insisted he didn't keep a tally or try to change the terms of the contract.

Mangray said he always intended to pay the group $361 for the 111 paying customers he recorded on a counter that night, and that when he said there were only 50 Asian customers he was approximating from the number he had seen.

"I think they misunderstood my question," he said. "Since it was two Asian (groups) that sponsored the event, I asked them, 'Where was the Asian turnout tonight?' "

Lai and FASA President Ashley Manzano said their groups brought many people who aren't of Asian descent to the club. They say it was prejudiced of Mangray to assume only Asian students would attend their party, and to label people Asian as they came in the door.

Manzano, a business school senior, said she and Lai argued with Mangray before he showed them the counter, and that she believed there were between 150 and 200 people at the bar that night. She accused Mangray of not disclosing the true number of customers who paid the cover charge so as not to share his revenue.

Lai and Manzano said they went outside Studio 4 to negotiate with Mangray's son, Reese, with whom Lai had originally arranged the evening's revenue-sharing. They said Reese argued that a promotional group he started had done more to attract customers than the student organizations had.

As the argument escalated, Lai and Manzano said Reese insulted the female board members of FASA and spit on Manzano. Reese came close to attacking Lai and another CSA member, they said.

Reese Mangray could not be reached for comment last night, and Jeff Mangray said he did not go outside the bar or know what occurred after the students left.

Lai said the Mangrays called a number of times over the weekend insisting they would only split cover charges for 50 people. Lai and Jeff Mangray agreed on half the cover for 111 people that Wednesday, Lai said.

But Jeff Mangray said he did not speak with Lai between Saturday and Wednesday and did not believe Reese had either.

At the meeting, Lai said he will refuse the money from that night. He and Manzano asked the representatives from other student groups for support and suggestions for what the groups should do next.

Most people at the meeting were from Asian and Pacific Islander student groups, but Jewish and African-American student groups were also represented.

Michigan Student Assembly Vice President Arvind Sohoni and MSA candidates from both the Michigan Action Party and the Defend Affirmative Action Party were also there. Sohoni offered MSA's support for CSA, FASA and UAAO.

"On behalf of MSA, if there's anything we can do, we want to help," he said. "I think this is the first time in history that we've had a South Asian president and vice president, so we're part of this community, but this is an affront to the student body."

Linh Nguyen, community development program manager for the Office of Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs, told the students that the administration had discussed the incident and wanted to support the student groups with whatever action they take.

"We want to dialogue and partner with them to figure out a solution to this," she said in an interview after the meeting. "To raise the issues that they choose to raise, however they want to bring this issue to light."

Many people suggested a boycott of Studio 4 and urged group leaders to seek media attention. Some said they had also been dissatisfied with Studio 4 when they held events there.

"We've always known that they handle their business practices pretty shadily," said Vietnamese Student Association President Kevin Duong. "Like most groups, we look past it because we get the money."

Duong and other students said they worked with Studio 4 primarily because the club was more accessible and eager to work with them than other clubs, even if they weren't pleased with the management's conduct.

Jeff Mangray said he always gets positive feedback from student groups he worked with.

"We have a reputation of being very fair in our business dealings with everybody," he said. "This is the first time anything like this has ever happened."


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