Formed at City College in 2010 by Lena Carew, a former student at the college, Students Making a Change has been involved in advocacy campaigns this semester from placement tests to free muni passes for students.
But alongside the victories, the group has been followed by a cloud of controversy.
Members of SMAC spoke passionately at the April 26 Board of Trustees meeting, when a controversial resolution on a new placement testing policy was up for a vote — and eventually passed.
“Some of the students are being paid to speak here,” accused Student Trustee Jeffrey Fang. “I think their voice is still valuable … but we need to take that under advisement.”
Chelsea Boilard, the director of programming for Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth, a community organization in San Francisco, confirmed there are eight student leaders at City College that are paid by the organization but declined to comment on the specifics of their employment.
Veronica Garcia, a City College student and Coleman Advocates’ SMAC Basebuilding Club Leader, said she gets paid $10 per hour.
According to the Rappaport Family Foundation’s website, they have given SMAC a $40,000 grant, through Coleman Advocates, for “organizing and advocacy campaigns at City College of San Francisco.”
One of the many private funders behind the controversial Student Success Task Force, the Rappaport Family Foundation seeks to encourage student activism and civic engagement at community colleges in California, according to their website.
Carew, Coleman Advocates’ SMAC Coordinator, who wrote the grant says that future funding is uncertain.
As a group, the students in SMAC tend to speak uniformly on issues when in public — like politicians-in-training — and two members, Marjory Ruiz and Juan Segundo, are designated as media representatives.
However, the group was unusually candid at their May 9 meeting.
At a SMAC student leader meeting held in the Ocean Campus Multi-Cultural Resource Center, the group talked about their summer plans and future goals, including increasing membership in the fall, networking with students at Peralta Community College and finding time to have fun.
In a solemn moment, Ruiz began to tear up as she discussed her plans for transferring to a four-year university in the fall.
She was accepted both UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz, she said, but alluded to family obligations that will prevent her from leaving San Francisco.
Carew encouraged the group to celebrate their victories, even amidst a contentious climate.
“It’s easy to get lost in these emotionally-charged conversations,” Carew said, but there is still much to be proud of, including the board’s vote to adopt the new placement testing programs.
One member wasn’t so sure.
The state already mandates that community colleges use multiple measures to assess students, Ruiz said. “Why am I celebrating a policy to enforce a policy that’s already there?”
The group voiced interest in meeting with English faculty over the summer to discuss implementation of the new Placement Plus One testing program, despite hard feelings that remain between SMAC and faculty after the April 26 board meeting.
During that meeting several SMAC members spoke passionately about the harmful effects of the placement tests used by the college and demanded that the new testing programs be implemented immediately.
“We cannot allow another generation of students go by and sit complacently … (watching the faculty) say, no, we’re gonna work on this until it’s perfect,” Marjory Ruiz said, referring to English faculty requests for more time. “Guess what? The system already is not perfect. It’s not working. We need to change this as quickly as possible.”
Faculty present at the meeting objected to being told work over the summer, as their contracts don’t include summer session.
Academic Senate President Karen Saginor and English department chair Jessica Brown both agreed to an amended resolution, which called for full implementation by Spring 2013, giving faculty and matriculation officers an extra semester to prepare.
Emotions remained high, even after the amended resolution passed.
Students from SMAC, as well as representatives from both Coleman Advocates and Bridge to Success, a program which promotes college success for underrepresented students, were visibly upset — even livid.
SMAC members, accompanied by Pecolia Manigo, the education justice/education policy campaign organizer for Coleman Advocates, confronted Student Trustee Fang about his comment that the students were paid to attend the meeting.
Fang told The Guardsman that Manigo said to him that he “should have talked to SMAC first, instead of speaking in front of the microphone.”
And according to a press release dated April 27 on Coleman Advocates’ website, “While students were testifying at last night’s hearing, there were teachers in the audience who actually told them to ‘sit down,’ in an effort to undermine their voices and their experiences.”
However in a telephone interview with The Guardsman on May 1, SMAC’s media representatives said that they didn’t feel disrespected at that meeting.
Juan Segundo was asked to sit down after he tried to address the Board for a second time during public comment. Board President John Rizzo explained that each speaker is only one allowed one two-minute comment period.
Veronica Garcia also approached the podium after public comment was closed and Rizzo reminded her she could not address the board at that time.
Someone from the the audience said, “Sit down, it’s okay,” and Garcia returned to her seat.
Later in the meeting an outburst from a faculty member in the audience triggered angry reactions from members of SMAC.
After Trustee Ngo began to rant about his disgust with requests by English faculty to delay implementation, Paolo Sapienza, a matriculation officer, said, “Shame on you. This is (time for) board discussion. Don’t talk to us.”
Students responded to Sapienza with “Shame on you” and “you’re racist” but the exchange quickly ended when Rizzo called for order.
English faculty members then left the room and students applauded as Ngo waited to continue his speech.
In a seeming contradiction, on previous occasions Ngo has condemned what he describes as highly political and emotional rhetoric that hinders productive conversations.
In the parking lot members of SMAC, accompanied by Hal Huntsman, a math instructor, and Sue Homer, a political science instructor and SMAC’s faculty advisor, got into a heated argument with several English faculty members about placement test policies and the process of shared governance.
Trustee Fang stood on the sidelines.
At the end of the discussion, Fang suggested that he mediate between the two sides, at a later time, to “clear up any miscommunication.”
They all half-heartedly agreed.
“We agreed, we shaked on it,” Fang said, but the meeting never happened.
As nearly everyone at the meeting that night left, SMAC members remained in the hall along with Huntsman and Homer. Eventually, they were joined by Trustee Ngo.
Fang was nearby, and while he could not see the group, he told The Guardsman he was shocked by their conversation.
The group discussed the proceedings at the meeting, Fang said, making fun of anyone that they considered opposition, including calling English chair Jessica Brown a liar and mocking English instructor Jeffrey Liss for defending Brown while holding her purse.
Fang said that Homer responded to the students and said, “This is what we do at City College. We lie.”