Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein issued the following statement April 6, 2012:
Students and other members of the Santa Monica College community were cruelly pepper-sprayed this week for trying to participate in a public meeting about the sky-rocketing tuition costs for public higher education that are about to be imposed on them. They are heroes for standing up for this imperiled foundation of our economy and our democracy.
Specifically the students were voicing their objections to the proposed quadrupling of fees for many summer courses through a so-called "Two-Tiered Tuition" system. This comes in the aftermath of decades of tuition increases across the country which have made a college degree as much as ten times as expensive for students compared to just a generation ago. Most college students are going into deep debt to pay these high costs already, with roughly 30 million students and recent graduates struggling to repay college debt amidst desperately high unemployment rates for recent college graduates.
Back in December, 2011, Dr. Stein held a meeting with students at Santa Monica College, including Harrison Wills, president of the student association and a member of the Green Party. The subject was the impossibly high tuition costs they were facing.
Dr. Stein had this to say about the students she engaged with then:
I met many of the amazing students at Santa Monica College in my visit to the campus this past December. They are truly leaders in the fight for generational justice in their courageous stand against high unemployment, rising higher education costs, exploitative college loans, and escalating climate catastrophe that all fall most harshly on the backs of their generation. In fighting for justice for their generation, they are standing up for a healthy economy, democracy and ecology for us all.
On Tuesday of this past week, frustrated demonstrators denied access to a trustees’ meeting were turned on by the Santa Monica police when a couple of the students had broken into the board room.
About 30 people were treated for pepper spray, and two were transported to the hospital. No arrests were reported.
Priscillia Omon, 21, said she was standing behind a police officer when he pulled out the pepper spray and fired it in the mouths and eyes of people standing arm’s length away. She described a man next to her convulsing and spitting up foam after being hit with the pepper spray.
Roughly 200 students were involved in the demonstration, and 12 were allowed in the boardroom where officials were scheduled to discuss a controversial tiered payment program. Access to meeting was a point of contention among demonstrators, who said they requested last month that the trustees gather in a larger room to accomodate the crowd.
Some students, including Christine Deal, said police roughly handled many of the students in the front lines of the crowd. Deal, whose story was supported by at least two other students, said a police officer grabbed her by the neck during the clash.
A family, including a 4-year-old, were in the crowd when the officer used the pepper spray, Omon said.
A crowd of more than 100 people gathered in a hallway outside the door of a 60-person capacity room in the business building, said Omon, member of the activist group Student Organizing Committee of Santa Monica College. An overflow room with a closed-circuit video link was opened to students.
"The students wanted to be heard and we wanted to be in the room where we could fairly discuss this topic, and be seen by them," said Aura Chavez, 18, who was standing in the back of the crowd when the pepper spray incident happened. "We wanted to let them see how many students care about their education."
The subject of Tuesday's meeting has drawn the ire of students and professors claiming that the tiered payment plan would make in-demand summer classes -- like English, math, history and biology -- staggeringly expensive.
The program in question would cost $180 per unit during the summer session, up from the usual $46 per unit. That means a high-demand 3-unit course would run about $540, more than most students pay for an entire semester in the fall or spring.
Dr. Jill Stein asserted further April 6th:
We need these students to be fully educated so they can transform our Wall Street-run, fossil fuel-dependent, obsolete economy into a just, sustainable green economy for the 21st century. And as thinkers from Benjamin Franklin to W.E.B Dubois, John Dewey, and today, Diane Ravitch have warned, we need an educated citizenry in order to strengthen democracy, especially today in the age of Citizens United.
For all these reasons, higher education needs to be accessible to all. That's why I have made student loan debt forgiveness a key priority of my campaign. If we found a way to bail out the bankers who crashed the economy with 16 trillion in giveaways and free loans, we can forgive the much smaller 1 trillion dollar debt of the students, who are suffering the economic consequences of that waste, fraud and abuse.
I am committed also to making public higher education free and open to all students -- like our primary and secondary schools -- since a college education is as critical for economic security in the 21st century as a high school degree was in the 20th. This is not only the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing, as shown by the GI bill which returned $7 in increased revenues for every $1 invested by the federal government.[cross-posted at correntewire and sacramento for democracy]