By Jindi Zhang, Staff Writer
June 18, 2023
Students are organizing to tackle problems with facilities in Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Laney’s Cosmetology, Welding, and Wood Technology students have been vocal about disintegrating facility conditions and the lack of necessary resources for a successful educational experience.
The group of students recently met with Laney College administrators at a May 3 forum to voice their concerns about the current condition of college facilities and staffing levels.
The organizing began when Lucien Boreczky and Satchel Alvarez, two students from the Welding Department, started brainstorming with their professors about ways to advocate for changes and renovations that would support the safety of the students in their department. Boreczky and Alvarez reached out to other CTE departments and invited them to speak alongside the Welding Department at the April 11 Board of Trustees meeting to air any concerns.
However, what culminated in over 30 minutes of testimony from at least three Laney trade departments was entirely organic, said Boreczkey and Alvarez in an April 26 interview with The Citizen.
“It was great, but it was also a heartbreak. A bunch of them, you know, had similar concerns,” Alvarez noted.
During the board meeting, Camila Ballard, a student in the Cosmetology Department, expressed concern with Laney’s ability to fulfill its mission.
“Laney was founded to be a trade school, you know, to help people to advance, to make it. Founded in 1927, became public over 70 years ago, the motto of Laney is to dream, to flourish, to succeed. So I just want to take this time to stress that something is not right,” Ballard said.
Students were also joined by faculty, like Sydney Windham, a professor in the Cosmetology department who echoed Ballard’s comments. Windham said that without proper resources, including hot water, their students cannot work on actual clients, and that this barrier to practical experience will hinder employers from hiring graduates in the future.
“I was initially trained in cosmetology in the ‘80s. The facility looks the same […] It is so rundown and so overused. It’s not fair for the students that we have at this point,” Windham said.
In 2016, cosmetology students came up with a list of issues the department was facing at the time. According to members of the Cosmetology Department, many of those problems persist to this day, including access to hot water, heating and air conditioning, access to a consistently functional bathroom, and proper PPE and ventilation systems. Tansey Moon, a student in the department, highlighted the persistence of these issues.
“These are the same problems we have today. Over 6 years, the complaints of students and staff have been ignored […] We are a trade, students come to the department to get their license and get a job. When we have improper facilities and lack of funding, students are unable to learn and unable to become employed when they graduate,” Moon said.
La Tonya Carpenter, a professor from the Cosmetology Department who spoke during the public comment section, extended an invitation to board members to “see what we’re working with.”
“You know, as much as we really try, it is very difficult. And our students deserve an even nicer place to learn. So I’m asking if you can, please come out and visit us,” Carpenter said.
Sarah Reed-Guy and Ron Choy, two students from the Wood Technology Department, said in their remarks that they are also going through many of the same issues that other students are experiencing.
However, the biggest concern for Reed-Guy is the faculty to student ratio in the room.
“The program is growing, but there’s too many students and it’s a huge safety risk to both the students and the teachers. We are operating heavy machinery and we are unskilled at the beginning,” Reed-Guy explained.
Ron Choy illustrated the issue with an example of how a particular set of classes are taught in the department.
“The enrollment system allows two classes that meet at the same time in one room: Wood Tech 10 and Wood Tech 20 […] 15-20 students, a couple of instructors. It’s not safe. As Sarah said, they’re learning to use really heavy machinery and you can injure yourself really fast,” Choy said.
According to Choy, instructors are supposed to be able to monitor Wood Tech 10 and 20 students individually as they use the machinery in the shop. Choy continued to explain that the same instructors are required to engage with Wood Tech 30, which learns in an adjoining room, leaving students in the shop unsupervised for part of class time.
“So it’s just totally unsafe. It’s really a safety issue. It’s just a disaster waiting to happen,” Choy concluded.
Boreczsky and Alvarez spoke about the unavailability of welding classes that are required for graduation and the lack of safety features that are essential for the welding work they do.
According to Boreczsky, students are often required to wait semesters in order to graduate.
Boreczsky also said that part of the facility’s ventilation system, which protects students and faculty from the hazardous gases produced by welding, has been broken for over a year.
“If any more on this system were to break, we would be forced to shut down classes. And as many of the other Career and Technical Departments here, without lab, our education comes to a halt. We need to be in lab in order to learn to weld, and if it shuts down that again delays us once again learning and progressing our careers,” Boreczsky explained.
In addition, Boreczsky mirrored the cosmetology students’ concerns about the condition of the heating and cooling systems.
“We are dealing with processes that generate a lot of heat. And if it is too hot in the welding department, that is dangerous for our health, and again it’s a safety issue,” Boreczky said.
After the students spoke, Board President and Trustee Dyana Delfín Polk expressed gratitude to everyone that came out to speak during the public comments section of the meeting. Interim Chancellor Jannett Jackson committed to taking action in the future, and also mentioned that the Brown Act prevents a response to public comments in the same session as when they are given. The Citizen reached out to Polk after the meeting through email for further comment, but did not receive a response.
Since the board meeting, both the cosmetology, wood technology, and welding departments have been visited by district administration.
Nothing specific has been promised to the Wood Technology or Welding departments in terms of upgrades, according to Reed-Guy and Boreczky.
Windham hosted a walkthrough of the Cosmetology Department with Besikof, Director of Facilities Amy Marshall, and Interim Vice-President of Administrative Services, Dr. Dettie Del Rosario, to verify the concerns.
According to Windham, the administrators promised that custodians would sweep and mop the floors nightly. Additionally, Marshall is investigating the possibility of purchasing portable water heaters.
On April 20, the hot water was turned on for the Cosmetology Department. This was done through a temporary repair by the Department of General Services (DGS).
“The more permanent repair will be completed when the needed part arrives,” Marshall said in an email to The Citizen.
Marshall also told The Citizen that the two air handling units in the welding department had been repaired.
According to Marshall, the central utility plant modernization (CUP) project will modernize the central plant which provides heating and cooling, so “we are cautiously optimistic that at this time next year HVAC issues will be a thing of the past.”