Can You HEAR Them Now? The Student General Assembly

Academic Senate Liaison to the Student Senate for California Community Colleges

One week after our Fall Plenary in Anaheim, I attended the Fall Student General Assembly in San Jose. The close proximity of the two events provides opportunity to understand the role of the Student Senate for California Community Colleges (SSCCC), but perhaps more importantly, to appreciate our community college student leaders and take in their views on the issues that we faculty often forget as we derive our own stands.

In many ways, the Student General Assembly parallels two Academic Senate events. On the one hand, it resembles the plenary sessions where the body directs the actions and activities of the Executive Committee. On the other hand, it mirrors the Faculty Leadership Institute. Just as faculty, new and experienced, learn the ropes of leadership, the ins and outs of Title 5, Education Code, and AB 1725, and their local senate's proper roles in governance, students at the General Assembly attend breakouts where they learn the ways to represent all students, to get students involved on their local campuses, and to forge collaborations with their local academic senates.

The sheer numbers of students participating was daunting.

About 470 students from over 80 colleges attended the three-day affair. They reflected the diversity of our student population in gender, age, and ethnicity, had tremendous energy, and were remarkably articulate about their desires and concerns. On the first day, during Public Comments, students raised several issues, including promoting sustainability on their campuses, the importance of staying through the resolutions process, the hope of connecting the SSCCC to their local campuses, and the desire to think globally and move beyond California-only issues.

Perhaps a greater theme was student desires to network, whether it was around the issue of sustainability or building a community of students, international students, military veterans, or disabled students.

Interim Chancellor Diane Woodruff spoke to the Assembly about issues that directly affected them, including the Basic Skills Initiative, AB 1725, Pell grant tuition sensitivity, the recently-enacted Student eVoter Registration Act of 2007, and the importance of student leaders staying active. Students were further informed about changes to Title 5 Regulations, the Consultation Council's Assessment Task Force recommendations, the Basic Skills Initiative, and the Student Senate By-Laws. They also heard a panel discussion on Proposition 92 (the CCC Initiative), in which the pros and cons focused on its potential impact on students.

I was fortunate to participate in a breakout entitled "Working Together: Creating a Culture of Collaboration," which looked at ways to improve the working relationship of local academic senates and associated student organizations. I co-presented with Andrew Anzalone, the Region VI Representative, Associated Student Body president at Moorpark College, and Student Senate liaison to the Academic Senate Executive Committee. We were able to engage students and their advisors in a lively conversation regarding the academic senate's 10 Plus 1 and the students' 9 Plus 1. The one issue that came as a surprise was the number of students who said their colleges had no regular student evaluations of faculty.

As someone who experienced student activism firsthand at Berkeley many years ago, I was struck by the thought that these students were not significantly different from my long-ago peers. They were earnest, sincere, and serious-and they are active. One open representative seat attracted 17 candidates. Their resolutions were far-ranging, from addressing the textbook costs, equity and diversity, getting student involvement, sustainability, smoking on campus, disability issues, to GI Bill barriers.

Ultimately, the students at the General Assembly were looking for ways to be heard on the issues that they found most resonant and compelling with their lives. And as with my student peers in the past, they were looking for someone to listen. It's about time that we begin to listen to our students-can you HEAR them now?