Petitioners allegedly harass students

By Araceli Diaz / Staff Writer

By Araceli Diaz / Staff Writer

From the moment that Riverside City College has opened its doors in 1916, it also has been open for petitioners to seek signatures.

Over the years, RCC has restricted petitioners and other individuals exercising their free speech rights to the area in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. High Tech Center.

As of late, however, the petitioners have become more unruly and aggressive in their matter of attaining signatures.

RCC student Micah Carlson has experienced some harassment from aggressive petitioners.

“They set up a table at Club Rush and asked every time I walked by,” he said. “I had to finally tell them to stop asking me.”

This kind of aggressive behavior is what concerns Jonathan Flike, president of Associated Student of Riverside City College, who has encountered unruly petitioners.

“I ran into two of them at Club Rush and they were taking up a table for one of the clubs on campus. I confronted them and asked them and they said they were students and we’re here collecting signatures,” Flike said.

The petitioners, however, are not allowed to misrepresent themselves as students.

Jennifer Reyes, an RCC student shares the same sentiment.

“I honestly don’t think the petitioners really know exactly what they are making you sign,” she said. “They just follow you around; they are just trying to get a paycheck most of the time.”

Reyes is discussing about the pay for sign model, which has become an issue of interest in recent years.

 Essentially, people are being paid to attain as many signatures as possible for a particular ballot or proposition.

According to a New York Times article entitled “Professional Petitioners Aid Ballot Initiatives” the average rate a petitioner gets paid is 75 cents to $1.50 per signature of a registered voter.

The process normally begins when specific group sponsoring a specific cause or proposition hires a campaign company to help spread their message and aid them in attaining signatures.

In turn the campaign company hires a slew of professional petitioners across the state to get sufficient signatures.

“I feel we are being abused a little bit, it is not severe, but they should not be able to come here and make students sign and especially when they cannot explain it well,” Reyes said.

RCC has served as a host to both professional petitioners as well as genuine petitioners who are hoping to inform others of their cause.

Reyes has encountered stubborn petitioners on numerous occasions as well.

“(Petitioners) have followed me for a while; going to class they would follow me to my door until I would say no,” she said. “I would say no thank you, but they keep following me, telling me it is OK and sign it and that it will be real fast, and I would have to say no repeatedly.”

This kind of hostile behavior is what concerns Flike. He is receiving complaints regarding the petitioners on a regular basis

“I have gotten at least five complaints every week since school has started about the petitioners,” he said.

A few regular complaints he receives is verbal harassment.

“They have been following students to the parking structure,” Flike said. “Students have told (petitioners) repeatedly that they do not want to sign, but they continue to harass them.”

“Petitioners have cussed at people refusing to sign their petitions,” he said.

Unbeknownst to many students, however, is that there is a specific code of conduct petitioners must follow in order to be allowed on campus.

“Everyone has the right to free speech, but at the same time everyone has the right to feel safe,” Flike said.

“I had a really long talk with my administrative superiors; we have come to an agreement to print out code of conduct sheets for the free speeches, for the petitioners, for when we see them out there, we give them the code of conduct so that they know what is expected of them to be on campus,” he said.

Flike went on explaining his plans to handle the situation.

“The moment they violate that code of conduct, we kick them off of campus; this way they know what is expected, we know what is expected and there is no argument about it,” he said. “It is about maintaining the safety of the students while still maintaining free speech.”

Students are often left wondering where the line should be drawn in regards to when they should be allowed to formally complain.

“The petitioners are not allowed to confront you; the moment you say ‘no’ that is when the conversation is supposed to end,” Flike said. “They are supposed to respect that.”

If the situation escalates it is up to the students to report it and make sure the administration becomes aware of it so that they can take proper actions.

The correct procedure dictates that if at any point a student is being harassed by a petitioner the student should proceed to the Student Activities office and get a faculty member to come talk to the individual.

Flike emphasizes that anything beyond that deserves to be reported to campus police.

“If you ever feel threatened or if they ever get really loud with you or if they try to touch you or anything like that then call campus police,” he said.

The campus police can be reached utilizing the various blue emergency phones that are posted around campus as well at 951-222-8171.

“From what I gathered from administration, the moment they violate that code of conduct, we take their names down, we get all their information and they are no longer allowed back on campus,” Flike said. “Your free speech does not supersede the safety of the students; the moment you violate that you are no longer welcome here.”

Flike ultimately encourages students to be proactive, but also to not engage any petitioner in a violent manner.

“The students need to realize that no matter what they are saying, unless they are disturbing the peace or violating a code of conduct they have the right to be there,” he said. “Don’t touch them because we are liable for them being here on campus; just as you would not want anyone to assault you, don’t assault anybody else.”

Flike asks student to report any suspicious or aggressive activity because it helps fix the problem if the students come forward and report these incidents, that way the proper people may be banned from campus.

“If you see something, say something. That is with anything, if you see a student being harassed, not only by a petitioner, but by another student or if you feel somebody’s space is being invaded call the campus police that is what they are there for,” Flike said.

“You deserve to be on a campus where you feel safe,” he said.