Military recruiters looking to enlist students at Santa Barbara City College today will have to share the campus with several groups that intend to make potential recruits think twice about enlisting.
Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against War (VVAW), two local veterans organizations, will set up tables and construct a memorial called the Wall of the Fallen to encourage students to be wary of recruiters who glamorize military service. A coalition of nearly 20 student and community groups will be holding a march and a rally to protest the military’s presence on campus, which is a part of the school’s Armed Forces Career Day.
“Our goal is simply to show the cost of war, which is something the recruiters don’t do,” VVAW member Lane Anderson said.
School officials initially denied the two veterans groups permission to protest on the west side of campus near the recruiters’ tables, but Dean of Student Activities Benjamin Partee reversed that decision Wednesday. Anderson said the school was reluctant to allow the veterans to set up tables there because of media coverage the veterans brought to the event last year.
Anderson said Veterans for Peace will now set up tables and the Wall of the Fallen near the recruiting area, while VVAW will hold its usual table on the other side of campus to prevent the recruiters from simply moving to escape the protesters. He said he hopes Veterans for Peace will be able to set up tables near the recruiters to balance their approach.
“I hope we’re going to be mixed right in with the recruiters,” Anderson said. “There was talk of having separate areas for the recruiters and the protesters, but I don’t think it’s going to work that way.”
Anderson said the student coalition has played a major part in organizing the protest – something he said the recruiters coming to SBCC are specifically hoping to avoid.
“They tend to target community colleges because students there are less organized,” Anderson said. “But this time I think the students are going to surprise them.”
Pablo Lopez, an SBCC ethnic studies and law and society major, is one of the co-organizers for the student coalition. Lopez said the students have already scored a sizable victory against the military’s presence on campus. When Lopez met with Partee yesterday, he was told the school would not continue to host Armed Forces Career Day in the future.
Lopez said he was informed that the decision was made in large part due to the students’ negative reaction to the event.
“We found it very troubling that the school would promote military service this close to graduation instead of continued higher education,” Lopez said. “We want students to question the promises that are being made to them by the recruiters.”
Sgt. First Class Will Gray, an Army recruiter who will be present for the career day, said he was not bothered by the protesters.
“I don’t mind people protesting,” Gray said. “Part of the reason I do my job is so people can have that freedom of speech.”
Gray said he is not worried about the effect of the protesters on the recruiters’ efforts, but he would have preferred the two groups be kept separate.
“Maybe at that instant some people will be deterred by the protesters, but if someone is intelligent enough to see what we are offering them and takes interest, then they will seek us out eventually,” Gray said. “It’s just delaying the inevitable.”