Incoming student trustee calls out board

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By Bianca Macias

Riverside Community College District students have elected a Norco College student to represent them on the Board of Trustees during the 2021-2022 academic year.

Student Trustee-elect Jack Harris, 24, a second-year philosophy major, said he was inspired to run for the position after a negative interaction at a board meeting.

“I feel that the district leadership has amassed a lot of power during online classes and (is) not doing enough to put action behind the words they say or to provide student self-empowerment,” he said.

The incoming student trustee is concerned that the transition to in-person learning might be uncomfortable for students. The district is planning for instruction during the fall 2021 semester to be as it was pre-pandemic: 80% in-person and 20% online if conditions allow.

Harris said the transition should be eased into and more online courses should be offered.

“The best route to go down should be determined by the students,” he said. “But regardless, more online classes and more hybrid classes should remain implemented.”

Harris also aims to eliminate jargon during board meetings. He criticized the trustees, which are elected officials.

“I don’t see them holding up their end of the bargain,” he said. “They’re supposed to represent the people, but they’re using language and rhetoric that only academics could understand.”

The use of academic and governance jargon is inconsiderate of RCCD students, many of whom are entering college for the first time, he added.

“I’d like to implement the rule that if you can’t explain it in simple terms to the average (person), then you shouldn’t be saying it,” Harris said. “We exist to serve the community and the community should be able to understand what we’re saying at the trustee meetings.”

Harris referenced “The Stranger,” a novella by Albert Camus, arguing that when defending people without including them in their own defense, what ends up being defended is an abstracted caricature — the expectations of the people are defended, rather than the people themselves.

“Issues that pertain to equity and antiracism are issues that should not be talked about academically by district policymakers, but should be decided ultimately by the students as to avoid crafting policy which is drafted upon a caricature of BIPOC (and) LGBTQ+ students,” he said. “This way we can ensure that those who draft and pass policy on campus, including myself, are held accountable.”

Harris also plans to voice the demand for support groups on campuses. He said he would like to see areas where students with unique struggles, such as disabled people and working parents, would have opportunities to meet with each other in groups and discuss their troubles and experiences.

Students would benefit by finding others who they relate to, in effect building support systems they can lean on during their college experiences, Harris argued. 

He said he is also counting on RCCD to continue to make vaccinations available to students.

“I would like to see the ability to be vaccinated, if one wants to be vaccinated without possibly being seen by anybody on campus to keep it anonymous,” Harris said.

He expressed concern over negative political situations arising if students see other students being vaccinated. 

Aside from continued vaccination, he said he trusts that carrying forward with masks and social distancing will be campus etiquette to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

Harris said his needs are to evaluate what students want and what the goals as a student body are. He shared that he plans to do so by acquiring data through student surveys and networking with professors and colleagues.

“I want to hold the (Board of Trustees) accountable for the policies that ultimately affect the students that they’re implementing,” he said.

Faith Wallace, runner-up in the election, said she is excited for Harris and is rooting for him to make a difference as the voice of the students.

“Don’t take no for an answer,” she said to Harris.

The incoming student trustee is beaming with pride from his election.

“I want students to know that their voice matters on campus,” Harris said. “It’s extremely rewarding to participate at the school that you go to.”

Harris will be attending Cal Poly Pomona as well as RCCD in the fall and aims to become a philosopher and professor. His term begins at the end of the spring 2021 semester.

“There is a lot of work to do,” he said.

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