Student protesters demand to have their voices heard

Holding signs reading outcries such as “No to private education” and “My name is not student; I am Joaquin,” throngs of students at Santa Monica College descended upon the library halls last Wednesday, demanding that the governing board repeal the two-tier tuition plan.

Students professed their disapproval of the plan in a “Silent March,” in effort to publicly convey their feelings that the Board of Trustees did not take students’ opinions into account when making decisions that directly affect them, said members of student advocate group MECHA, who organized the march.

“As students, we feel like our voices are being silenced,” said Natalie Toscano, co-chair of MECHA.  “The governing board is silencing us!”

This protest is in response to last month’s Board of Trustees’ approved two-tier plan, which allows differential fees to be paid among students based on the availability of classes in summer and winter sessions.

Associated Students vice president Jasmine Delgado said the student government recently voted unanimously to oppose contract education classes. AS directors believe that the two-tier plan papers over the state’s inability to properly fund higher public education. It does not offer long-term solutions, Delgado said.

“They want these contracted classes to solve the financial woes they’re facing now,” said Delgado.  “But I haven’t seen any term limit on it.”

Not all students believe that the two-tier system deserves to be under fire. An SMC student—who refused to provide his name because he felt intimidated by the protesters’ presence—was against the march.

“I feel for the students who are against this, but what they’re doing here is essentially protesting against continued education and continuing classes,” he said. “I think that’s wrong. Education at any cost is important.”

School officials have told The Corsair that contract education classes are provided in an effort to extend the availability of classes beyond what the state funds.

Seven hundred state-funded classes will be provided at a regular price during the summer session. To address the strong student demand, the school, in accordance with the Santa Monica Career and Transfer Alliance—a non-profit corporation—takes the initiative to offer an additional 50 self-funded classes, which require a higher fee.

Administrators say the higher fee is in response to the actual price needed to provide those classes without the help of the state.

“The state has already largely stopped its funding,” said SMC Board of Trustees member Louise Jaffe. “Making California community colleges inaccessible to students won’t solve anything. Students need classes!”

However, students continue to raise eyebrows at the two-tier system, as many feel it “privatizes education.”

“It’s creating a two-tiered system of wealthier students who can afford classes and struggling working-class and low-income students competing for the scraps of what’s left,” AS president Harrison Wills stated in a Los Angeles Times article.

Wills also said he was frustrated with the Board of Trustees’ unwillingness to cooperate with the student government.

“I’m getting dozens of e-mails from professors and the entire statewide system about this,” Wills said. “I actually asked [the governing board] to debate about it; and they said, ‘no we can’t debate.’ Even if it’s halfway privatized, it’s no longer a community college.”

Words such as “Education is my only way out” and “Chalk with us” were scrawled on the ground outside the library steps from an earlier protest at SMC called Chalk Expression Day. The protest was also in regards to the two-tier tuition plan.

“These people are inside these buildings; they’re not coming outside,” said Toscano, in reference to the Board of Trustees. “They’re not hearing us!”

The protesters marched along the library halls from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Chief of the SMC Police Department Dr. Albert Vasquez and other police officers were present at the protest. No police interference was reported.