– Sixty Gavilan College students, armed with statues painted in
protest, boarded buses and vans to join thousands of their
counterparts from across the state in a rally at the State Capitol
Monday. More than 5,000 California Community College students
rallied in Sacramento to protest tuition hikes
and budget cuts.
SACRAMENTO – Sixty Gavilan College students, armed with statues painted in protest, boarded buses and vans to join thousands of their counterparts from across the state in a rally at the State Capitol Monday. More than 5,000 California Community College students rallied in Sacramento to protest tuition hikes and budget cuts.
The Gavilan students brought with them two “missing students,” fiberglass statues decorated by the college art department. Each college student body purchased and decorated statues to parade through the Capitol Mall, representing students who were turned away from community colleges last year.
The students from throughout California’s 109-college system were joined by faculty members and staff to show state legislators that community college students aren’t enrolling in classes because some can’t afford tuition increases. Repeated budget cuts also have forced schools to reduce the number of classes they offer.
“Budget cuts hurt our chance for success,” said Simon Cooke, president of the Associated Student Body. “If you cut funding, you’re in a sense removing a very valuable resource to your society.”
Gavilan officials say the college turned away more than 500 students. The California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office estimates that 175,000 students were turned away from college campuses last semester due to fee hikes and fewer class offerings.
“The majority of college students in California attend the 109 California community colleges, yet community colleges often come last for funding,” said Jan Bernstein Chargin, public information officer for Gavilan. “Students want to thank those legislators who have supported community colleges and budget proposals to fund increased enrollment growth and protest those proposed changes which could decrease access to college, including the second significant fee increase in two years.”
A similar “March in March” rally last year drew more than 10,000 participants, the largest at the Capitol in decades.
Carrying posters and reciting chants, this year’s marchers followed last year’s route. They gathered at 10:30 a.m. in Raley Field in West Sacramento, walked across the Tower Bridge and down the Capitol Mall before gathering for a rally on the west steps of the Capitol at 11:30 a.m. Some streets in the area were closed.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger – a California community college alumnus – has proposed at 44 percent increase in fees, from $18 per unit to $26 per unit. A 65 percent increase took effect last fall, increasing fees from $11 to $18 per unit.
Students Monday wanted to protest the proposed increase, saying it would decrease access for even more students.
“It was originally called the ‘Missing student’ project. It was symbolic of the students who were unable to attend college because of the budget cuts and increase in tuition,” Cooke said.
Cooke prefers to calls the students “Most Valuable Players,” to represent the importance of community colleges.
“It’s symbolic of what community colleges mean to the state in terms of the valuable job training skills that people receive from community colleges,” Cooke said. “These are trained professionals within various industries, like the auto industry or nurses … firefighters, police academy programs. We add a lot of valuable people into our society.”
He noted that the budget situation has actually improved for California’s community college students. Whereas the system used to be repeatedly deprived of state-mandated funding, Gov. Schwarzenegger has now made it a top priority for education funding, proposing a $100 million increase for next year’s budget.
Gavilan’s “missing student/MVP” statues, purchased by the ASB, feature colorful doodling. The female figure is predominantly pink, with words like “Somehow,” “Somewhere” and “Sometimes” covering her torso. Shackles chain her wrists and neck. On her back reads, “Educate Don’t Incarcerate.” An image of George W. Bush’s face covers one of her buttocks.
Both the female and male figure have an image of an eye on the left thigh, and tears fall from the eye on the man’s leg.
The male figure is colorful, with an upside-down American flag making up his right shirtsleeve. A yellow playing card on the male’s torso contains an image of a devil – complete with horns, a spiked tail and pitchfork – and reads “El Diablito,” or little devil in Spanish. On his back, another playing card shows a heart and reads “El Corazón,” or heart. “Educate Don’t Incarcerate” is printed below his waistline and “Futuro,” or future, is repeated on his upper back. A cross is shown on the back of his head.
Other schools artistically decorated their statues, as well. Two figures from Glendale Community College represent people in mourning, with sequined mourning veils over their heads to reflect the viewer’s image, as they may be the next victim of budget cuts.
The College of the Redwoods painted a target on one student, to show that students are the target or goal of the faculty. Another figure is camouflaged, except for a number on its chest.
Two statues from Sacramento City College are split vertically, one half painted like a striped prison uniform and the other half painted like a student.
Students chanted repeatedly for Gov. Schwarzenegger, however, he was in Los Angeles.