Attacks against A.S. president leadership raise tension at Monday A.S. board meeting
The Associated Students public board meeting turned hostile on Monday when President of Alpha Gamma Sigma honor society, Ernie Sevilla Jr., confronted A.S. President Harrison Wills on his alleged fiery political rhetoric, which Sevilla said contributed to the April 3 pepper-spraying incident. “Will you care now to explain in front of everybody what you whispered in my ear?” Sevilla said to Wills at the meeting.
With much hostility, Sevilla pressed Wills to divulge to the audience that he had allegedly told Sevilla during the April 3 protest to “force” the boardroom doors open, and told him “to keep it that way no matter what it takes.”
“Why did you say that to me?” Sevilla heatedly said. “What was your intention there?”
Wills declined to immediately comment as tension began to build.
In response to those allegations, Wills later on stated during the meeting that the accusations thrown at him for engaging students to protest in an erratic manner are not true.
“We asked the officer at the door to please go ask for a bigger room,” Harrison said. “We weren’t going in to be violent. Everything has been blown out of proportion.”
Wills then addressed criticism over his active participation in the ongoing protests, and said it was nonsensical since he “campaigned on being a student activist.”
“I told everyone during the [campaigning] process that I will put on a suit, go to these meetings, try to represent the students’ concerns, and fight for equity and equal access,” Wills said, “but if our concerns are not being heard, I, in a video, say I will be on the streets protesting.”
Ongoing protests at SMC have been revolving around contract education, a contentious pilot program that would have offered 50 optional classes at a higher fee, in addition to 700 state-funded classes, school officials say.
Critics say that contract education was unfairly postponed due to political pressure created by the Student Organizing Committee and other student activists, without giving a chance to the rest of the student body to look deeply into the pros and cons of the program.
“In recent years, the college has gone into its reserve pool significantly,” student David Cooper said at the meeting. “Contract education was a new partial possible solution, whether you agree with it on an ideological level or not.”
But Wills says contract education is nothing new. It was proposed, last year, as measure AB 515 by the State Assembly member Julia Brownley and the Board of Trustees.
“There’s video footage of me at a trustee meeting, a year ago, speaking out against contract education in the form of AB 515,” Wills said. “This is not new. The board of Associated Students last year also opposed AB 515, which was essentially contract education.”
According to the California Teachers Association website, “AB 515 would authorize a community college district to offer extension courses for credit,” and “the classes would have to be self-supporting, open to the public, developed in conformance with the Education Code.”
Wills says he wrote a resolution about his opposition on contract education, which was endorsed by Region 7, a member of the English Council of California Two-Year Colleges representing over half a million students.
Critics of the protests allege that some protest organizers contrived the pepper-spraying incident by provoking the SMC police force., and that they brought milk to prepare for possible retaliation. A video taken by someone at the protest shouting, “We got pepper sprayed! We won!” was posted on YouTube.
Wills refutes some of these claims. “The assumption or accusation that we brought milk to the protest is a lie,” Wills said. “We have receipts. Several friends of mine bought milk after we were pepper-sprayed because they knew that milk was the best way to help.”
Wills says students were upset because they were not being heard. “Our society is at the point where we are demonizing people who are fighting for equal access in education. It’s really sad,” Wills said choked with emotion. “Its absolutely astonishing. You fight for equal access to education and you’re the crazy person.”