By Bethaney Lee
Renowned multimedia artist and spiritual guide Zeena Schreck credits City College as being a key life factor for her in 1979, when the college still offered San Franciscans the free enrollment Proposition W strives to reclaim.
“Had CCSF not been a free college when I attended, there would have been absolutely no way for me to attend,” Schreck said.
Like many college students today, Schreck had a past that desperately needed an education and alternative choice to what she calls a stifling, dysfunctional family life.
She became a mother at the age of 14. Just two weeks after delivering her son, she was forced to move with no financial support from her parents or her child’s father.
“I was desperate to find a way out of what seemed a hopeless situation,” Schreck said.
At 15, she took the high school equivalency test, which at the time would allow her to leave high school, work legally and enroll at a college. Passing the test at 16, she started working and immediately enrolled at City College.
Able to take drama and gymnastics classes at no cost, Schreck recognized the pivotal role the college played for her.
“Had I not been given the chance to have the tuition-free arts education at CCSF that I did at that crucial junction in my life, I would have missed out on a very important link in my artistic development,” Schreck said.
“As a society we have really let down people who are in their 20s, and even people into their 30s and 40s,” said Tim Killikelly, the president of City College’s faculty union, the American Federation of Teachers 2121.
He added, “Like the single mom who is going to school, who we should provide with the right resources so she can get out of school sooner, get a job and spend time with her family.”
Though Schreck has gained much fame and success since her enrollment, she remains well-rehearsed in the realities faced by the youth of San Francisco.
“I know that there are many other young people who also experience such discouragements and hindrances,” Schreck said. “In instances where families fail young creative people and there are no state-supported educational possibilities like CCSF was to me, then I fear that that is a recipe for disaster.”
Voters will get to choose whether to raise taxes on real estate over $5 million to make City College tuition-free for all San Francisco residents. The proposition is expected to generate an average of $44 million in revenue should it pass.
“I hear their stories,” Killikelly said. “Making college free for students would be an incredible boon to society for all of us, but especially to the ones already struggling. Prop. W is a really important element of that and a progressive vision of what we really should be doing for society.”
Having left the city and moved to Berlin, Schreck has not kept up with local elections for what she calls a very long time. However, she said she would strongly support a free City College as a former student who benefited greatly from that privilege.
Schreck often thinks back to how hard she had it because of personal challenges and can barely imagine how tough it is for those with similar personal hardships, yet no financial support.
In addition to supporting City College becoming free once again, Schreck encourages young art students to explore opportunities foreign countries that offer state support for the arts and universities.