San Mateo County Community College District students are demanding a variety of specialized services and programs which they claim will improve their quality of life on campus and ultimately allow them to better focus on their education.
The requests include allowing unrestricted access to student centers, creating prayer rooms, establishing sanctuaries for undocumented students, rejecting armed campus security and more.
Isabelle Valdes, a middle college student who takes classes at Cañada College, said the demands issued late last month are designed to address many of the concerns students have long faced, but are amplified in the wake of Donald Trump winning the presidential election.
“This is about community and students being able to go to school every day free of fear,” she said.
The list of 12 calls for action was originally posted on SMCCD Rise Up, a Facebook page borne from a group of students who coordinated walkouts protesting Trump’s forthcoming presidency. In the weeks since organizing, students have attended district Board of Trustee meetings and held talks with administrators to share their perspective.
For his part, district Chancellor Ron Galatolo said the wishes are well received by officials committed to working collaboratively with students.
“We see ourselves as partners,” said Galatolo. “We applaud their efforts and want to stand arm in arm with them through this very uncertain time.”
Galatolo pointed to the ongoing work of the Board of Trustees to pass a resolution addressing educational and social justice issues as an example of the administrative work which started months before the demands were published. The resolution focusing on access, affordability, individuality, diversity and inclusion went before the board Wednesday, Dec. 14.
Though the resolution does not speak to all the demands raised by the students, Galatolo said he believes the document is indicative of the cooperative spirit adopted by officials.
Trustee Maurice Goodman said he too appreciated students coming forward and sharing a passionate perspective.
“I support what they are doing and everything they have represented to us, and I think we need to acknowledge that,” he said.
Valdes, 17, said she appreciates the willingness of officials to consider the position of her group.
“They were incredibly receptive and sympathetic of our worries in our district,” she said of officials. “But there is no concrete action.”
She said the students plan to continue meeting with administrators to assure potential promises of new programs and services are delivered.
Galatolo said he considered some of the demands quite reasonable and feasible, such as allowing students 24-hour access to a student center where they can enjoy free Wi-Fi or establishing prayer rooms.
“I think those are outstanding recommendations,” he said.
But some of the other requests may be harder to meet, said Galatolo, as officials are still beholden to state and federal law designed to assure the safety of staff, faculty, students and others who visit district campuses.
Such obligations could influence the district’s position on armed campus security or sheltering undocumented students from the threat of federal immigration enforcement, said Galatolo, who expressed a desire to strike an appropriate balance between the students’ demands and the best interest of the school community.
A county civil grand jury released a report earlier this year calling on the district to consider beefing up its campus security protocol and officials have been working to address many of the recommendations. Galatolo said a consultant was hired to advise on potential improvements such as coordination with local law enforcement agencies as well as the proposal to arm security officers.
“I’m completely agnostic on the issue of whether we should arm security or not and there are people who are more skilled in this who can give advice,” said Galatolo.
But considering the recent series of clashes between communities of color and law enforcement across the nation resulting in the use of lethal force, Valdes said the issue of campus security carrying weapons is important to many local students.
“We are scared the arming of police officers and public safety on campus in some ways is a direct threat to our vulnerable communities,” she said.
In light of the rhetoric expressed by Trump on the campaign trail, another uncertainty is whether the residency of undocumented students will be threatened, said Valdes.
“We are driven to do this because it directly affects our communities,” said Valdes.
Galatolo said school officials will do what they can to shield students, but may be limited under federal law regarding the protections they can offer.
“We want to make sure we have safeguards in place to provide those students quality education because they are integral to the success of our community. All of the colleges are taking this very seriously … . But we will not be unlawful. This board wouldn’t ask staff to be unlawful and the chancellor won’t ask his team to be unlawful. We won’t voluntarily provide information unless it is being requested by some court mandate,” he said.
Goodman though said he believed officials should seriously consider the request to establish sanctuary campuses.
“I can see that as something this board and the district would definitely explore,” he said.
Considering the transitional nature of community college campuses, Valdes said she understands many of the students pressing for the changes do not stand to directly benefit from the demands, as some policy amendments may be implemented following the current students transferring elsewhere.
She questioned whether all the recommendations could be established, but said the list can also serve as a reference for district officials to understand the needs of potentially marginalized students.
“It is a list of things to be implemented soon, but also a list of goals to strive for,” she said.
Goodman said he was heartened by the students coming forward as a demonstration of them attempting to improve their educational environment, though he did not consider the list demanding as much as a set of guidelines for officials to consider.
“We understand this is more along the lines of these are areas for us to work on,” he said.
Galatolo also said he appreciated the passionate calls from students, and said officials will work to consider the issues raised in the demands against the needs of the rest of the school community.
“We have to balance the competing interests and needs of all students to make sure we are being fair and equitable to everyone,” he said.
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