Arizona: students protest campus racism

PHOENIX — Students at Glendale Community College (GCC) marched against continuing racism in the Maricopa County community college system Oct. 12. The demonstration, which attracted about 150 people, was in reaction to the GCC administration ignoring a series of racist comments and e-mails from a faculty member.

The student protest, which was organized by the local chapter of the Chicano student organization, MEChA, denounced the racist messages posted to all GCC students and staff, and the failure of the college administration to act. In the messages, math teacher Walter Kehowski criticized Mexican American cultural events on campus as a threat to the “superiority of Western civilization.”

Filmmaker John Carlos Frey chaired the rally, which included statements of support by MEChA leaders from other area community colleges, and from Phoenix-area civil rights groups. GCC student Jennie Martinez said she decided to attend college so as to challenge the stereotype of Chicano youth, only to find the college rife with the very racism she had hoped to leave behind.

Silverio Garcia, Arizona education director for the League of United Latin America Citizens, pledged his organization’s solidarity. “What’s going on here at GCC is what I continuously have had to deal with,” Garcia said. “I say, ‘No más!’ [No more!]” He promised to look into the possibility of filing a federal class action civil rights suit.

State Rep. Steve Gallardo told the rally that colleges need an atmosphere where all students will feel welcome, and called for hiring more minority faculty. He urged students to “take back your campus.”

Also joining the rally was Fernando Suarez del Solar, whose soldier son was a victim of the war in Iraq. Suarez del Solar, who was in Arizona to participate in peace movement activities surrounding the presidential debate, told students that a disproportionate number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq have been Latino.

“It is immoral for our government to recruit soldiers at colleges and high schools for a war that only serves the rich,” he said. “We need to ask recruiters to get out. We need books, not wars.”

The author can be reached at stelnik@webtv.net.