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Santa Monica College students outraged at pepper spraying

April 4, 2012 | 10:48 am


Students arriving at Santa Monica College on Wednesday morning expressed outrage at a campus pepper-spraying but said they had mixed feelings about a plan to offer higher-priced courses this summer -- the issue the students who were pepper sprayed were protesting.

Aimee Casillas, 22, called the treatment of the protesters by campus police at the Tuesday night Board of Trustees meeting "awful." A second-year student studying history, she says the administration is taking advantage of students like her who need to get into classes to transfer to universities.

About 100 students were protesting Tuesday night against a plan to offer higher-priced courses at the college this summer. Some protesters suffered minor injuries as campus police tried to prevent dozens of students chanting "Let us in, let us in" and "No cuts, no fees, education should be free" from disrupting the meeting during a public comment period.

Several were overcome when pepper spray was released just outside the meeting room as officers tried to break up the crowd. Santa Monica College has launched an investigation into the incident.

With an enrollment of 34,000 students, Santa Monica College has one of the highest transfer rates to four-year universities in the state. The Board of Trustees is considering a plan, approved last month by the school’s governing board, to create a nonprofit foundation -– believed to be the first of its kind in the nation -– that would offer such high-demand classes as English and math at a cost of about $200 per unit.

Fees for courses at California community colleges are set at $36 per unit by the Legislature. Full-time students enrolled in 15 units pay approximately $1,080 per academic year. Fees are set to rise to $46 per unit this summer.

First-year student Levin Padernal, 19, hadn’t heard about the pepper spraying incident but said the tuition increase is unfair to those can't afford it, yet he hoped it would do some good by opening up more classes for those who need them.

Corey Velderrain, 21, sympathized with the protesters but understands the need to offer more classes, even if they cost more. Velderrain, who is studying international business, is on financial aid and says he’ll be able to pay for the high-priced courses.

"I was cool with it when it came out," he said. "It is so hard to get classes so if they open more up, they have to pay for it somehow."

According to Velderrain, students who are unable to get the classes they need at Santa Monica College pay for comparable courses at other universities such as UCLA, and that even with the college's proposed plan, the cost for these courses would still be less expensive.


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Photo: Kayleigh Wade, 19, wears a T-shirt explaining Tuesday night incident of pepper spraying by police. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times