Hello. My name is Astro, and I am both a student here at Central and the editor-in-chief of our student-run news publication, The Collegian. As I begin, I first want to acknowledge that we live on stolen land and honor my indigenous ancestors for the violence they endured. We must remember and learn from our history…
I chose Central as my college not just because it was affordable or because it was convenient, but because I was enthused about its purported commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and access. I wanted to attend a school where Queer BIPOC individuals like myself (and any other historically excluded peoples, for that matter) were embraced, supported, and nurtured. A place where I felt at home and could thrive as my whole, unadulterated, unapologetic self.
I am entering my 4th year here completing my bachelor’s degree, and I must tell you that my time here at Central has been one of the most positively impactful experiences I have ever had in my life. The power of higher education, especially for someone like me who embodies an intersectionality of several marginalized identities and backgrounds, was one that I never believed could be accessible to me. It is only with much effort, perseverance, and -most importantly- support, that I have been successful in my endeavor to pursue and achieve the gift of higher learning, and much of my success is due to the amazing faculty, staff and community here at Central. Here, I have learned to deeply value community in a way that would not be possible elsewhere.
My values mean everything to me. I hold them as sacred and precious things. I do my very best to live by them in all that I do, and I require the same of others. More than that, though, I expect the same and more of an institution of higher learning, especially when that institution is so very proud of its legacy of strong, equitable values and its sense of responsibility to its students and faculty.
Which is why I find myself disappointed in our college’s District Administration. It pains me to hear words and phrases like equity, transparency, fiscal viability and responsibility, public access, diversity, accountability, and inclusion thrown around with such ceremony, and with such privilege, by those who are unwilling to suffer, stand, or fight with us. The District has a penchant for touting its responsibility to students and faculty as its first priority, and yet the actions taken recently by the District belie and desecrate this value, making a mockery of the people who have tirelessly invested themselves in its mission and ethos.
The actions I refer to consist of several austerity measures. The District has imposed mandatory furloughs that disproportionately affect workers of color. They have denied hazard pay to custodial and security staff who are the most at risk due to the dangers of COVID-19 and civil unrest. These same workers remove and dispose of human waste, used needles, and other dangerous materials from school grounds. They protect school property from rioters and vandalism while the administration works comfortably from home. Additionally, the District has imposed both temporary and permanent layoffs on the faculty and staff who work most directly with students. They continue to cut support services and available classes for students, reject the budget task force’s recommendations, and mismanage federal stimulus aid, all while increasing tuition fees that hit our most vulnerable students the hardest.
All this while the administration continues to increase its own budget (by 101% over the last 3 years, including a 79% increase in administrative staff from 19 to 34) and Chancellor Pan continues to make $303,718 a year (about $6,000 more than 2018). To put that into perspective, Governor Jay Inslee, who is mitigating a massive public health crisis, makes $183,072 a year, a more than $120,000 difference. The District has more administrators than either the South or North college campuses, even though none of these administrators provide any direct services to students.
The projected percentage of budget cuts Seattle Colleges face in the upcoming academic year is 10-20%. The District’s top administrators taking a 15% pay cut would not only demonstrate leadership we could all admire but would go a long way towards balancing the budget and showing a strong praxis of fiscal equity. Instead, this public institution of learning is being run like a private, profiteering business where those at the top remain unscathed while the most vulnerable employees receive disproportionately harsh cuts. We are not Amazon. This is not equity. We must do better.
Is this how they repay those who have given all that they have to this institution and its students? Is this how they show support to the students and faculty they say they are here to serve? I say, put your money where your values are, and show us that you live by what you say!
To Chancellor Pan and all the other higher-ups of the District, I ask this question: what do you want your legacy to be, in the midst of this history-making moment in time, when the world is so divisive and the ethics and values of so many of our once-trusted institutions are besmirched and dubious?
You can choose to be an institution of integrity, or you can go the way of charlatans, con artists, and thieves and become the villain, the problem, and the antithesis of all that you say you stand for.
Values are not a tool to be politicized and used as propaganda. They are not empty promises to be made and cast aside. Living in our values is a sacred and precious responsibility. Our values are the light, the beacon of our community; and the District owes it to this community to turn the lights back on.
Astro (they/them) is the Editor-in-Chief of the Seattle Collegian, the President of Seattle Central's Queer Cooperative club, a fully-professed Guard with the Sisters of the Mother House of Washington, a social worker and behavioral scientist, founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance at Seattle Central (TDoR), Board Member-At-Large with Diversity Alliance of Puget Sound (DAPS), and a self-identified Queer-Alien-Person-Of-Color. They have won awards for their journalism and community service work as well as for innovation in leadership and academic excellence, and are an active and outspoken advocate and activist for both the LGBTQ+ and recovery communities. They speak regularly at events relevant to these causes, and work closely with their fellows to support these communities. Social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion are their banners, and their belief in the gifts, strengths, and resilience of all minoritized communities is the driving motivation behind their work and their mission: using the powers of journalism, self-expression, creativity, conversation and connection to uplift and foster acceptance for all peoples.