By Alyssa De La O/@alyssadelao24
Members of the Student Leadership Coalition attended Alamo College’s first Student Dialogue and Listening Forum of the year on May 6, with the purpose of communicating frustration and a perceived lack of communication to Chancellor Dr. Bruce H. Leslie.
Palo Alto College’s Student Government Association and Student District Council invited Alamo Colleges students yesterday to participate in the first in a series of five district-wide forums aimed at encouraging small table discussions and improving how the Alamo Colleges communicates with students on academic issues.
The forum drew a total of 30-40 students, staff and faculty.
Members of the coalition said students were united in their concerns. They sat together tightly at small tables in the Performing Arts Center’s music room to take a stab at improving communication between themselves and the Alamo College’s administration.
Discontent between students and Chancellor Leslie was a major theme this semester, students say. The forum eased some students’ frustration while the format irritated others.
“I didn’t like the fact that he (Bruce Leslie) still ran around the questions,” said Debra Gardener, psychology sophomore and student coalition member. “We were only given the last fifteen minutes to ask our questions.”
Students formed the Student Leadership Coalition with the goal of giving the student body a voice, and to bring awareness to the college in general. Members say they are fed up with the lack of a student voice on campus.
The group first came together at Palo Alto College courtyard in the spring of 2014 when Leslie initiated a plan for all courses to use e-books. Students who were involved in the protest against the policy decided they wanted to bring greater awareness of the decision-making process at the Alamo Colleges.
Norma Sanchez, psychology sophomore and one of the first students who became a member of the Student Leadership Coalition, says the Alamo College’s inability to communicate with the students is a significant issue to her and the group.
“I felt like things were done underhandedly, and we wanted to be told and informed about what is happening,” Sanchez said.
She said from her perspective, the majority of the students are unaware of how college administrators make decisions, and they do so without student input.
“The kids don’t know what’s going on,” Sanchez said.
“Ironically, before the Coalition made its debut there was a growing feeling among college administration that students were apathetic towards politics,” English professor at Palo Alto College Rafael Castillo said. “How wrong they were.”
‘Dialogue and Listening Forum’ encourages dialogue
At one forum table, students gathered their questions and concerns for the chancellor. Students were given thirty minutes to organize their responses and were then invited to assign a speaker, moderator and reporter.
In the end, students came up with questions that revolved around similar themes: improving communication between the students and the administration; removal of the majors from degree plans; and building a Women’s Center in a vacant area of the college’s library.
All mentioned a lack of communication between the students and the college’s administration. But the council, in turn focused on that problem by asking a myriad of questions, including:
“What are the three most important issues affecting students at the Alamo Colleges?”
“What can we do as a community to address them?”
Group receives faculty support
Palo Alto College does not officially recognize The Student Leadership Coalition as a student organization. But the group does receive faculty support.
Tony Villanueva, psychology professor at Palo Alto College, says the Alamo Colleges places restrictions on what kind of groups can receive official status. But, for a coalition of students who make a point of disagreeing with the college’s administration, striking out on their own has its advantages.
“We want to be able to do certain things such as speaking,” Villanueva said. “They can’t stop you when you are not affiliated with the school.”
Villanueva says the group is important to the college because it creates a voice for the students who cannot, or feel afraid, to speak. He has stood by the group’s side since the beginning, when the group said Leslie developed a habit of not directly answering their questions about the e-books or providing a reasonable rationale for removal of majors from degrees the fall of 2014.
“All the time he would answer the students with ‘We will look into it,'” Villanueva said. “He never gave them a clear answer.”
Member Beto Perez joined in fall 2014 after he heard about the removal of majors. He says since then the group inspired him to speak up.
“I was quiet and just went to class and didn’t say anything,” Perez said. “It wasn’t until I joined the group that I developed a fire in me.”
On Mar. 23, the group spoke to the Board of the Alamo Colleges about the removal of the majors suggested for future students. In that meeting, Perez tore up his educational certificates in front of the board.
“I needed to do this in order to get their attention,” Perez said.
The group planned to protest at PACfest, but canceled their plans because the administration would have likely shut down the event.
“There were probably going to be 1,000 to 1,500 people we could have contacted,” Perez said. “But then again that is 1,000 to 1,500 people that would have missed out on PACfest.”
Rafael Castillo, English professor at Palo Alto College and coalition supporter, said in an email that Alamo Colleges motto “Students First” should continue to matter.
“The Student Leadership Coalition of Palo Alto College is such a galvanizing force that they have garnered the attention and respect of the faculty and staff,” Castillo said.