More than 30 students and their family members marched into the NOCCCD Board of Trustees meeting in Anaheim last Tuesday chanting, “Que queremos? Educación! Quando? Ahora!” and “Si se puede!” Community members and college students protested the board’s decision to lower the school-wide standards of retention and success rates of Latino and African American students.
“Education is something that no one can take away from you once you have it. […] A good college education is the right of every child – we have to start right here at home,” said FC instructor Adela Lopez, as she encouraged the protestors.
Fullerton College is a Hispanic Serving Institute, with a Latino student population that has grown by more than 200 percent over the last few years and has now reached a total of 42 percent out of the school’s entirety. The President’s Advisory Council decided upon the 2 percent on Feburary 27, despite the students’ desire to keep the rate at 5 percent, members explained that as the success rates and retention rates get higher, it is difficult to sustain that level of improvement.
Both the students and Vurdien agree that the 2 percent yearly increase is a goal that is a maintainable, reliable goal. But protesters said that they believe that they could also maintain the 5 percent goal and that it would encourage students and faculty to work harder to meet that goal.
The students spoke from their hearts to the board members about their own experiences. Christopher Sanchez, an FC alumnus came from Sacramento State to be a part of the protest. As Sanchez spoke to the board he said, “I was born a Chicano, raised as a Latino, a stereotype was put on me. When the school said that they wanted to drop it to a 2 percent increase, the words ‘two percent’ hurt everyone here.”
According to Ricardo Muniz, “These percentages set are goals for the student body to work hard for and it is unjust for Fullerton College to perceive the Latino and African-American body as incapable of succeeding.” By lowering the 5 percent rate FC is not serving the Latino student body, but instead setting them up for failure, said Muniz.
The percentage drop was recommended unanimously by the PAC, and the 3-year plan was adopted. Although the students have their own representatives on the council, they agreed to go forward with the plan. “It is not a one- group thing, it is collective. It is not just one person’s strategic plan, but it consists of many groups that recommend that plan,” said Vurdien.
MEChA President Irlanda Martinez said, “This is a matter of us having someone to believe in us. […] We are asking our educators to be educators, we aren’t asking for better educations, we are asking for a more active role of our educators in our success.”
But the protesters were not only asking for a number to change, but for attitudes of the faculty and staff to change. The students expressed concern that the faculty and staff have not been doing all that they can to ensure the success of Latino and African-American students.
“We are willing to put in the work if you are. Everyone here is working very hard to get a degree and transfer. Just say, ‘we support you’, that is all we ask,” said Marissa Gonzalez, a student and MEChA member.
FC has increased its associate degree graduations by 133 percent for African-American and Latino students. “The faculty works very hard to have students succeed, we have one of the best faculty in the state of California,” said Vurdien.
According to Gonzalez, the efforts for students to succeed do not fall solely on the students and faculty, but on the advertisement of special programs. She expressed that many Latino and African-American students are not made aware of special programs, assistance and opportunities.
Gonzalez was there with her family who came to support her, including her two younger sisters who will be attending FC in the future, “I want to make sure that they have the tools to navigate so they can succeed.”
They may not be well known, but there are several programs out there. The Student Success Committee, the Entering Scholars Program, the Transfer Achievement Program, EOPS, clubs and tutoring are all ways that students can become more involved and successful in their college career, said Vurdien.
Sanchez later added, “I was born and raised here, I am proud of the city I come from. If we don’t invest now, we will still be the working class. I was a dropout, I don’t want any student to experience that.”
Several board members expressed their enthusiasm for the students’ controlled passion and said that they were impressed by their articulate, professional attitude and by their collaborative efforts. The students will be meeting with some of the board members in the coming weeks to further address their concerns.