Latino students constitute 44 percent of the students at Pierce College but Chicano Studies students are often forced to drive to other campuses to take courses due to only three sections being offered this semester, according to Chicano Studies Professor Angelita Rovero.
Only one of the three Chicano Studies sections is taught on campus. Political Science professor, Tony Fernandez, teaches one class online and another that meets at Monroe High School.
Students from the group Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlan, started a petition to demand more Chicano Studies classes and spoke out at accreditation meetings held in the Great Hall last week. Death Studies major Melissa Robles said Pierce is a Spanish serving institution and given Latinos are the majority demographic on campus it is disheartening to not have the classes they want to take.
“The fact that it [Chicano Studies] isn’t available to us is stunting our growth and our minds,” Robles said. “That is where our fire stands. That’s what we want to learn and it is not being offered.”
Pierce College is a feeder school to CSUN, which has one of the largest Chicano Studies programs in the country, according to Rovero. The curriculum is already available at other schools in the district including East Los Angeles College, where Rovero also teaches. ELAC has 59 sections in 19 Chicano Studies courses listed in their spring 2016 schedule.
“Why should they have to travel to another campus when this is their school,” Rovero said. “A lot of students feel that way, but they feel they have their hands tied.”
Nataly Venegas said she wastes time and gas driving to Los Angeles Valley College and East Los Angeles College when the classes could be offered at Pierce.
“They don’t want to give us the opportunity to learn about our own heritage,” Venegas said. “There is no need for students that come to Pierce to go somewhere else just to get the classes that could be offered here, simple as that, but president [Kathleen Burke] just keeps saying no to us and keeps giving us other obstacles to go through just to get classes.”
Pierce College is hiring 50 new faculty members in 2016. Kathy Oborn, department chair of Social Science, said she put in a request for a full time Chicano Studies professor and the Faculty Position Priority Committee ranked it 15 out of 53 in terms of priority but Burke decided to skip over the position.
“The president didn’t recognize the same importance that the committee did,” Oborn said. “I was upset. The students were upset. Angelita [Rovero] was upset. Tony [Fernandez] was upset. We really couldn’t understand why and then we learned that the only measure that she used was full time to part time ratio.”
The largest benefit of hiring a full time Chicano Studies professor is that it would guarantee five Chicano Studies sections each semester, according to Oborn. The primary problem is that sections were cut across numerous departments years ago due to a drop in enrollment.
“I have been screaming for the longest time that we need to get those sections back that we got slashed and burned prior to 2008,” Oborn said. “That’s the first thing, because the experiment didn’t work. It didn’t increase success.”
The problem Oborn faces is that she is only allocated so many sections for her departments. She said if she gives another section to Chicano Studies it means she will have to take one away from Political Science, Economics or Criminal Justice who are programs that offer degrees.
“The important thing is that we do not have enough sections,” Oborn said. “That is what the whole story is here.”
Near the end of February, 2016, enrollment numbers were down five percent this semester compared to the spring of 2015, according to the Vice President of Academic Affairs Sheri Berger. Oburn said this is related to a decline in incoming students from the high schools who make up eight to 12 percent of the students at Pierce.
Fernandez brought Chicano Studies to Pierce College in 2006 and does not understand why they are not adapting to the changing demographics of the school. He said that based on the stats he is aware of the school was 24 percent Latino in 2006 and today that number has risen to 43 percent.
“Community college is meant to serve the community obviously, and the demographics of the community have changed, but Pierce College has not changed, and the machine, the administration has not changed,” Fernandez said.
Rovero, Hernandez, and Oborn all believe that Chicano Studies is a way for the rising Latino population to become interested in taking college courses and attending classes at Pierce College.
“We have many many Chicano students out there, and many of those students are not going to college, so if we have a Chicano studies program and Chicano Studies students can say “You know I want to study Chicano Studies,” Oborn said.
Rovero said Chicano Studies is what sparked her academic career and put her life back on track.
“I was a student here. I was on academic probation. I was one of those students who couldn’t find my way,” Rovero said. “For people like me, for a lot of them, it changed my life. I see a lot of these kids that are interested in their history.”
Fernandez said that on the first day of class he always asks his Chicano Studies students to raise their hands if they had a parent who attended college and only 10 to 15 percent will put their arm in the air.
“So we have 85 percent first time college students that have no role models, no parents to help them with their homework, no support,” Fernandez said.