Attempts to ban recruiters lead Progressive Alliance to protest
It was a day where not only the air was hot, but so were the tempers of several Santa Monica College students. A small number of students upset over the presence of military recruiters on campus made an unannounced visit to Tom Donner, interim president of SMC.
At 12:45 p.m. Thursday with the sun high in the sky, Richard Navarette, Progressive Alliance president, met with his small band in front of the Clocktower. A minute later they were off to a designated spot to meet a few more students.
"We are going to the office of Thomas Donner to demand that he listens to our concerns," said Navarette. "The banning of military recruiters on campus."
The recruiters under their right of free speech are allowed to be on campus. Navarette is aware of their right, but had this to say about it:
"Yes they are designated to be in the free speech area, however, I, personally like many other students have been witness to the recruiters walking around talking to students," Navarette claimed. "I've seen them inside buildings and in the cafeteria passing out flyers; they are stepping outside their boundaries."
Greg Becker, who is in charge of media relations for the Army, was contacted. He said he could not immediately make a comment because he said he was not aware of recruiters stepping outside the designated area.
The protesters met at the corner of Pico and 28th streets. In this area, like a sports team during a timeout, the protesters discussed game plans. The discussion was about what to do if something unexpected happened and if an appointment could not be made.
"Regardless of whether or not you agree with them, they are true leaders," outgoing Associated Students president Jeronimo Saldana said.
At this meeting spot rumors were abundant about the SMC police department having officers at the administration building where the president was awaiting the students. Navarette went to the building where the president's office is prior to the students coming in to check. Working like a spy, he went into the building to check and no officers were to be seen.
"If you look at the Santa Monica College application you have to check off to let the military contact you or else four-year schools won't contact you," said Julia Wallace, a member of Progressive Alliance.
Navarette went back to the corner once he saw the coast was clear to let them know it was time. The small but hungry group of students looking for a change left the corner and went into the administration building up to the office.
Navarette went in first and met with the secretary and asked to speak with the president.
The secretary informed him the president was busy with interviews. Navarette understood this and asked then to set up an appointment with him. The secretary disappeared and so did the opportunity to make an appointment.
After a few minutes of waiting without any success Navarette brought in the rest of the crowd. They started to march in a circle and yelled, "One, two, three, four, we don't want your racist war."
Donner appeared from his office to the applause of the protesters. All at once it appeared everyone in the room had a question for Donner and it was apparent from the look of Donner's face that this was too much for him to comprehend.
Donner got the active crowd under control by asking who the spokesman of the group was. One by one the students began to ask their questions and Donner answered them.
Donner questioned them about their stance on the free speech issue. A member of Progressive Alliance answered the question posed by Donner.
"We're not against free speech," Laura Villegas said.
Several members of the SMC police department including Chief Eileen Miller did come in as they heard the commotion. Immediately Donner told them that all was OK.
"Free speech is going to be debated; that is why I allow you to have free speech," Donner said to the students.
The issue of the recruiters in the cafeteria and other classrooms was brought to Donner's attention. Donner, like the media spokesman for the Army, said he was not aware of this. Like the students, Donner also expressed that he felt that what is alleged to be taking place should not be.
"They are able to enjoy the benefits of free speech but in those areas that are designated for that," Donner said. "Those things I was not aware of and will be conveyed to them by Dr. (Robert) Adams."
The students and Donner's peaceful conversation lasted for about a half an hour. Plans were put in place to have an appointment scheduled in the future. Donner pointed out that the students could have stayed if they wanted to talk later on as no one told them that they had to leave.
"As long as what they do doesn't violate others we will allow them to be there," Donner said, talking about the recruiters.