Shanell Williams: Make City College free again! Vote YES on Prop W

by Shanell Williams

It’s 2016 and, in the city of San Francisco, some communities are enjoying great opportunities, benefits and experiences in the current economic boom – while some communities are in crisis, fighting displacement and focused on day-to-day survival. I know what it is like to wonder “how will I make rent this month” and “how will I feed myself this month” while trying to pursue higher education and make a positive impact on my community.

Shanell Williams
Shanell Williams

When I feel discouraged by the inequities and challenges of the city, I reflect on the struggle of my mother. She supported my sister and me as a single mother and nursing assistant, in one of the most expensive cities in the world. With her passing away last year, her life represents to me more than ever the ways in which our society needs to show up for those trying their best to survive and create a future for themselves and their families in this challenging economy.

I have lived in San Francisco for 30 years and when I walk the streets, I see the faces of the many who have fallen through the cracks. They are waiting to be seen and for answers on how to navigate the conditions they are in. I see low income people of color, our seniors, mentally ill and disabled people on fixed incomes who are waiting on a solution from City Hall.

It is essential that Proposition W passes in order to save our college and our city and to close the social inequity gaps which continue to widen every day in our rapidly changing city. Proposition W would make City College free for all San Franciscans – like it was in 1984 – via the Free City College program.

It is essential that Proposition W passes in order to save our college and our city and to close the social inequity gaps which continue to widen every day in our rapidly changing city.

Moreover, Free City College would provide up to $1,000 additional funding yearly for students who have unmet financial needs. We live in a time where student loan debt is so high that it exceeds credit card debt nationwide, and where education – an essential public good – is becoming less and less accessible. Making City College free will allow all San Franciscans access to pursue the higher education they deserve.

Growing up in the Fillmore, I faced countless hardships in my life. When I transitioned out of foster care at age 18 and came to City College, I was welcomed with open arms and found a supportive community who encouraged me to thrive. I had access to services I needed, including free tutoring, resources and financial aid.

Shanell and a fellow supporter urge everyone to vote and to vote YES on Prop W to make City College free again.
Shanell and a fellow supporter urge everyone to vote and to vote YES on Prop W to make City College free again.

Nonetheless, in order to afford my rent and living costs, I made the difficult choice of leaving school after one year to work full time. Perhaps if Free City College had existed back then, I would have been able to continue.

Eight years later, I was finally able to return to City College. The college fostered my growth and success. Like hundreds of thousands of students before me, of all races, genders, ages and experiences, City College allowed me to grow, thrive and get to where I am today.

Beyond the incredible classes offered at our school, City College has life-changing programs and resources such as Guardian Scholars, the African American Scholastic Program, the Women’s Resource Center, Queer Resource Center, Family Resource Center and countless others, which all serve to empower our communities and lead to bright futures.

When the ACCJC attacked City College in 2012 with the threat of de-accreditation, I became very active in the fight to save City College. As an elected student leader, first as student body president and later student trustee, I helped organize student solidarity to defend our school.

Like hundreds of thousands of students before me, of all races, genders, ages and experiences, City College allowed me to grow, thrive and get to where I am today.

Today I am running for College Board trustee, and the fight is not over. Since the accreditation crisis, our enrollment has dropped by over 30 percent. Classes have been cut, and further cuts have been planned in order to downsize our beloved school. We cannot allow this to happen. City College is the heart of San Francisco. Proposition W will allow us to re-grow our school to its full capacity and empower those who are most in need.

In times like these, when the cost of living continues to rise, students shouldn’t be forced to choose between textbooks and food, or between tuition and rent. Join me this Nov. 8 in voting for Proposition W. Let’s make City College free again, and empower our school, our city and our community.

Shanell Williams is a candidate for SF Community College Board of Trustees this November. She is a City College alum and served for four years on student government, including two as student trustee, fighting to keep CCSF open and accredited. As a Board of Trustees candidate, she has endorsed Proposition W, a proposed small increase to real estate transfer taxes on luxury properties. Proposition W will fund Free City College, which will make it free for San Franciscans and provide additional financial aid to students in need. Shanell can be reached at info@shanellforcollegeboard.org.