SSU Chicano Studies lecturer elected as Santa Rosa Junior College trustee

Although the U.S. presidential election has left many Sonoma State students confused and concerned for the future of our nation, a local election may provide hope for the underrepresented students of Sonoma County.  

Mariana Martinez, a Chicano and Latino studies lecturer who serves as the McNair Scholars Program research coordinator at Sonoma State University, was recently elected to the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees. Martinez will be one of three trustees representing the 3-4-5 district, which includes Santa Rosa, Cotati and Rohnert Park.

Martinez was running against two incumbents for one of two available trustee positions. Martinez went up against the current President of the SRJC Board of Trustees Don Edgar and Richard W. Call, Board of Trustee representative for District 3-4-5, who has been on the board for 24 years. Martinez reeled in 35.7 percent of votes, while Edgar received 34 percent and Call received 30.3 percent of the votes.

Martinez will be the first Latina to be elected to the board. In addition, Martinez will be the second woman of color and the 10th woman overall to serve on the board. In a Nov. 17 Facebook post addressing her supporters Martinez wrote; “There is a lot that’s still being processed in my own head of where we’re going and where we stand.”

Martinez expressed a plethora of emotions winning the board position the same day as the election of Donald Trump. “I think it also comes with a greater responsibility in terms of… the next steps, especially because I’m so focused on student needs,” Martinez said. “That includes a lot of the population that the president-elect has very much verbally attacked throughout his campaign.”

Martinez believes the public education system is also at risk under the incoming Trump administration She expressed the importance for the trustees to educate themselves on higher education policies in light of “a president-elect who is trying to have the secretary of education be someone who doesn’t necessarily believe in public education.” Martinez is referring to Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who has previously worked to expand charter schools and school voucher programs as part of the American Federation for Children, according to a Nov. 23 Politico article.

“The other part of it is… trying to engage with the student needs [and] fears,” Martinez said, later adding, “If it was hard before to be a trustee, under this new administration it’s just layered with additional work.”

Martinez was only in third place for her position when she went to bed on election night, but woke up Nov. 9 to around 10 text messages telling her she had reached first place and won.

“That was an interesting morning,” Martinez said. “I got calls from some of the trustees and I ended up meeting with two of them that weekend.”

One of the trustees who met with Martinez was Maggie Fishman of District 2, which contains Petaluma and Penngrove. She said that the job of trustee is “harder than it seems.”

But Fishman said Martinez cares very much about student success and accessibility, and approved of her election.

“I think she’ll be a great addition to the board,” Fishman said.

Daniel Smith, director of the McNair Scholars Program, said he thinks Martinez has unique qualifications to be a trustee.

“Having an experienced educator on the board, having a Latina on the board, those are pretty big things,” Smith said.

Though Martinez won’t be officially sworn in to her new position until Dec. 13, she said she is prepared to work with the $400 million bond meant to strengthen Santa Rosa Junior College facilities. This bond was approved in 2014 under Measure H, and can be used to fund any infrastructure or buildings used by the school.

Martinez said she also plans to bring two issues to the forefront: student housing, and the lack of full-time enrollment at Santa Rosa Junior College. Martinez believes transportation, high housing costs in Sonoma County, and students stuck taking remedial courses all factor into the latter problem.

“Five years is becoming the time frame to graduate from college, but when you’re at community college and you’re there for four years, and you still can’t move forward, your full-time enrollment will be affected,” Martinez said.

Martinez also hopes to improve Santa Rosa Junior College’s Dream Center, a safe space for undocumented students, by adding office space where these students can voice their concerns. She expressed her desire for the Dream Center to have more structured faculty involvement.

Despite Martinez’s new responsibilities as trustee, she will still serve as project coordinator at McNair Scholars Program, which she considers her “bread and butter.” When she’s not attending board meetings on the second Tuesday of each month, she will teach a Chicano/Latino youth and adolescents class at Sonoma State during the spring 2017 semester.

Martinez said she looks forward to putting educational policies into practice at Santa Rosa Junior College “as a collective, versus individually.”

“I think Mariana has a lot of ability, she has a really good and unique background, and she’s very passionate about what she’s doing,” Smith said. “Put all that together, and I expect her to continue to be a really good advocate for these students.”