College spending $60k to turn computer lab into 'safe space'

Santa Monica College will move forward with a plan to transform a popular computer lab into a social justice center despite a petition signed by hundreds of students.

According to The Stringer, the proposal to construct the Social Justice and Gender Equity Center was spearheaded by Dr. Nancy Grass, Dean of Student Life, and would cost a total of $500,000, including $60,000 for a “computer lab update.”

While a university representative told Campus Reform that students proposed to “update the outdated computer and technology” and repurpose unused space, Lee Peterson, the supervisor of the Cayton Lab, previously expressed his concerns about the proposal.

“The administration is basically demanding that the student government spend more money on anything that it has in the entire history of SMC, all at once, without any significant discussion,” he told the publication.

A letter from the Associated Students President shared on social media also explains that the proposal will “add a Safe Space for Undocumented Students, DACA Students, LGBTQ+ Community, Religious Practice, and many more.”

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As of press time, however, more than 330 people had signed a petition labeling the potential move “a huge waste of student resources” that will be “destructive to the community as a whole.”

“The computer lab offers free printing and internet access as well as computers to all students, and should not be removed. This petition seeks to ensure the preservation of the Cayton Center Computer Lab only,” the document states.

“If a safe space is necessary, then other accommodation should be found,” the petition continues. “It is morally wrong to take a program as valuable as the Computer Lab from all of us while at the same time using the student fees that we all paid to do so.”

Ben Kolodny, vice president of the school’s Small Gov Club and the author of the petition, told Campus Reform that despite student pressure, the Associated Students Board of Directors passed the measure unanimously on Monday.

“I and the former Associated students president were kicked out of the meeting illegally by a demand made by the sitting AS President,” Kolodny claimed, adding that “When I tried to come back in, police tried to bar my way.”

Kolodny also alleged that “public comment was not allowed” after the board introduced new information to the proposal, arguing that the action violated the Brown Act, a California law that is intended to protect public access to meetings of local government agencies.

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“We will be filling a ‘Cure and Correct’ order and attempting to get this overturned,” he vowed.

A university spokesperson, however, insisted that “no one was removed from the Associated Students Board meeting and no students who left were denied entry to return.”

“Several students were disruptive, and were asked to be quiet,” the official maintained. “Some of these students left the meeting on their own, and later several of these students returned on their own to the meeting.”

On Sunday, Kolodny also noted that the website for the new social justice center had already been created prior to the Monday vote, and that a “plan to establish a gender equity center to serve all students” was listed as “Objective 3” of the school’s broad “Master Plan for Education.”

In a statement to Campus Reform, a college representative further explained that the initial concept for a gender equity center “came from students and faculty three years ago” and that the students later decided that a “Social Justice Center would best encompass the desired range of student needs.”

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