War resisters protest army recruiters at career fair
Santa Monica College's Career Island became a target for anti-war demonstrators when the military showed up as equal opportunity employers.
The protestors blocked the walkway in front of the library which served as the common path for students to access the job fair at around 11 a.m. on Thursday. They picketed, chanted for "peace, not war," and made certain that their presence was felt.
Police arrived on the scene and tried to keep the walkway clear.
"They were making a big circle that was really hard to get around, and the police were trying to get them to make a smaller circle," said Verenice Castro, an SMC student and Associated Students assistant, who was there at the time the protestors and police converged. But after that she didn't pay them much attention because she was "more interested in filling out applications."
According to the Career Service Center staff, this blockage caused the healthy flow of student traffic to come to a halt and then resume as a mere trickle, strangling student access to all areas of the job fair, upsetting employers, and wreaking havoc on future employment opportunities for SMC students.
"What they ended up doing was turning it into their show, and then some employers didn't get to hire or interview people," said Vicki Rothman, career center faculty leader. "They have a right to free speech, I agree, but legally the Army, the Navy, and whoever else, also has the right to be here. And sure, the students have a right to protest, but they did it in a way that shows the college, the community, and their fellow students that they didn't care about them. And it basically shut the job fair down - and we had really, really good employers this year."
Protestors were organized by a coalition of students including, but not limited to, members of the Progressive Alliance, the Anti-War on the World Coalition, and the Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba.
"The people who are complaining about us protesting want us to pretend that it's all happy and that students should just go out and get jobs as usual. But it's not business as usual, and that's our point," said Marcial Guerra, SMC student, protestor, and member of the Coalition in Solidarity With Cuba. "When you have hundreds of people dying every day from an evil war that the government is conducting in the name of the U.S., when you have people's lives at stake, you can't ignore that."
Guerra maintains that protestors had nothing against the job fair itself, but would not stand by and watch the military offer jobs that "we do not think are acceptable for students, or for anyone, to have."
The Career Services Center, aware that anti-war protestors want them to deny the military access to their job fairs, said that it is not an issue that they are even able to address. The campus is public property, and excluding the military from "Career Island," or any other event, is illegal.
Richard Navarrette, SMC student and Progressive Alliance member, argues that the college has more control over who attends their events than the administration is letting on. He said that Tom Donner, interim SMC president, has been "giving us the runaround" in matters concerning recruiters not respecting SMC campus rules and regulations which restrict them to certain free speech areas. "They walk around campus like they own the place," said Navarrette, who does, however, acknowledge that there is risk for colleges who take a stand against the military. "There is a pending decision from the Supreme Court that will determine if it is unconstitutional to withhold federal funding from colleges refusing to allow recruiters to be present on campus."
Navarrette is referring to Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, No. 04-1152, which is due for a hearing before the Supreme Court in October, with a ruling most likely to be reached by June 2006. However, it is unclear how the ruling will affect colleges in general since its primary concern is how current legislation protecting on-campus military interest affects law schools such as Yale and Harvard.
"The thing that upsets me the most is that the students that were protesting don't realize that there are so many students here who need to work," said Marcia A. Lewis, employment specialist and primary engineer of Career Island. "They have to pay for their room and board, and their food, just to supplement themselves to be here on campus; that's why we have job fairs."
Not all students see the protesting as a liability. Dina Cervantes, student trustee, was at the job fair for a few minutes just to give her support. "They were there exercising their First Amendment rights. Personally, I'm all for it," she said.
However, there is no question that the Career Services Center will suffer some very real repercussions because of the protests.
Already one employer has asked that they not be included in any future SMC events, which Lewis experienced as "a knife through the heart," after working so hard to gain employers' support.
Another angry employer called the center the following day and fumed about the turn of events. Still other employers complained on the day of "Career Island," and all of them left an hour earlier than scheduled because of the chaos.
"Knowing that employers complained about the career fair, I'm actually satisfied with the protest," said Navarrette. He hopes that this will force the administration to take a stand in what he considers to be the promotion of employers that promote unfair employment practices such as the exclusion of gays and lesbians. "Now they should think twice about allowing the recruiters to participate in the job fairs," he said.
Meanwhile, the Career Services Center is worried about what the future holds for their career fair.
"It's O.K. to have a cause and believe in something, but just think about the effects," said Lewis. "Always think about, O.K., is this the time for this, and who am I really hurting? You're hurting your fellow students, because when I start trying to get employers here in the fall, what are they going to say?"