Letter to the Editor: Associated Students? More Like Isolated Students

“Proud to be?… “ is a common saying when you are surrounded by Santa Monica College’s school spirit. We hear things like number one in transfer to UC’s, a world class education and endless opportunities. A vibrant global community that attracts over 3,000 international students from more than 110 countries. With modern buildings, SMC almost seems to be a utopian learning environment. 

There is no denying that SMC is a gem, but we cannot be blinded by the true meaning behind an educational institution, which is students’ growth and development into student leadership. 

In my opinion, the opportunity to develop student leadership as Associated Students (A.S.) is the most valuable aspect of the college governance. According to the school’s website, the A.S. works to represent the interests of the student body and make important changes in enhancing student life at Santa Monica College. 

But it has been my experience that no matter how enthusiastic the A.S. directors may be, there are always only a small group of students who participate in events, and an even smaller group who do all the leg work in the A.S. office. Could this be because the directors do not get enough training to be effective leaders or because we lack the structures that cultivate institutional memory and pass it on to the next generation of leaders?

Based on SMC's A.S. website, newly elected A.S. directors do not officially begin with their responsibilities until late August, which is usually a week prior to the semester starting. Only then are they informed of all the procedures of running their meetings and the rules they have to follow. Nowhere in the training are they updated on their individual positions efforts, or are taught how to interpret data on student outcomes.

How devastating does it become when they are left to deal a yearly budget of two million dollars without being taught the proper governing skills, while carrying this eagerness to serve others?

With the demand of mandatory meetings, they are now trying to juggle representing the student body, while making sure they can hold up to the college’s expectations. Without the skills to develop programs or having an in-depth understanding of the student body, they are quickly rolling with the punches that comes with being an elected official. Attempting to juggle multiple responsibilities at the same time brings a lack in connectivity between the A.S. and the students they represent.

A great example where A.S. had an opportunity to bridge a better relationship with the student body but failed to act was with the membership and ID fees. On September 20th, 2017, the Student Affairs committee finalized that the option to opt out of the $19.50 A.S. membership and $13 ID stickers would be made clear and available online. We are now in Spring 2018 and there is still no action behind it. 

Consider a second example of where A.S. has failed to adequately advocate on behalf of the Latinx community on campus. A press release email, sent in December 2017, stated that 183 Latinx SMC students transferred to a UC. While on the surface this might seem impressive, this is only 1.3% out of roughly 13,400 Latinx students we have on campus. With SMC in the current state that it is in, it is foolish to think the responsibility of Associated Students is anything simple. 

This is a call to all educators who wish to instill a rigorous foundation to future public servants: review the function of student government, reflect on the culture of the school and tell us how this notion of student leadership isn’t vital to directing our success rates to be more than statistics. This form of activism is not pointing a finger at injustices. It’s recognizing potential and wanting to uplift standards from good to better. 
As a combat veteran who has served this nation, I hold the standards of civic engagement to be better than what we are exposed to at SMC, because I know such an institution has the capacity to do so. “Proud to be?” No, It's humbling to have been able to grow in character as much as I have while at SMC, but I am heartbroken that it comes at the cost of neglecting my most vulnerable peers who just don't feel comfortable on a college campus like first-generation students, single mothers that don't have the time to get involved, and formerly incarcerated students.