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Approximately 30 Santa Monica College students were pepper sprayed and two hospitalized on Tuesday while protesting a Board of Trustees meeting discussing fee increases on non state-subsidized courses.
Roughly 100 students gathered in the SMC Business Board Room to voice concerns during the board meeting’s public comment session. Campus police officers and student demonstrators clashed after the number of participants exceeded the room’s maximum occupancy and attempts to redirect students into a designated “overflow room” failed.
SMC’s Associated Students Director of Student Outreach Cameron Espinoza, a second-year English major, said authorities first informed the protesters that they were required to leave the premises — a violation of the 1953 Brown Act — rather than mandating they move to a different room.
“I think there was a better way to go about calming the students,” Espinoza said. “I think if they just directed them in a better manner and did not tell them that their rights were going to be violated, that the students would have been calmer and maybe been more apt to go into the overflow room.”
Second-year SMC Spanish major Jasmine Delgado, one of two students hospitalized after Tuesday’s protest, said the conflict arose after administrators failed to address students’ demands for access to the meeting as well as their suggestion that the group relocate to a larger room.
“Had the police officers or someone from the board of trustees just said ‘If everyone calms down, we will try to figure something out; we will try to solve this at the moment, but this [crowding the room and protesting] is not conducive to the meeting whatsoever,’ but no one stepped up and said that,” Delgado said. “This all could have been prevented.”
According to Delgado, the narrow hallway outside the board meeting room became crowded with students and police officers pushing against each other, resulting in the police using pepper spray. Delgado says she was pepper sprayed and pushed to the ground by police.
According to Espinoza, the group aimed to rally against the college’s recent plan to raise the tuition prices on non state-subsidized classes to $180 per unit. Espinoza said the courses are contracted to third-party businesses who offer them at a price unaffected by fee waivers or Pell Grants, making them financially unviable for many students.