Community colleges have been fertile breeding grounds for students who want to exercise First Amendment rights over the years. However, one group in Seattle that is trying to do the same may be overstaying its welcome on a local community college campus. Seattle Central Community College has become the makeshift campground for the newly formed movement Occupy Seattle. However, after weighing the costs involved with added security and clean-up crews that have become necessary since the group moved in, community college officials are now looking for a way to oust Occupy Seattle from their campus.
Occupy Seattle moved onto the campus of Seattle Central Community College after they were told by city officials they were not allowed to pitch their tents in a municipal park, according to a report at The Seattle Times. The community college appeared to be a prime location for the movement, since the school had no rules on the books in regards to camping on campus. A local teachers’ union even invited the movement in and offered them free classes to help expand their cause, according to Seattle Pi.
The publication also reports that officials of the community college were never warm to the idea of allowing members of the movement to set up shop on their grounds and tried to ban the group at first. Without a rule in place to prevent it, however, the response to Occupy Seattle eventually had to be a reluctant “yes.”
“The president has made it really clear that, of course, we support the First Amendment that we all have for free speech,” Seattle Central spokesperson Judy Kitzman told Seattle Pi.
The Trouble Begins
Two weeks after the movement made itself at home on the Seattle Central campus, the school is now more aggressively looking for way to evict the 100 or so members that have transformed their area of the college grounds into a temporary home. The Examiner reports that school employees have found used needles and beer cans around the campus, including on the playground used by the campus childcare facility. Children at the daycare are no longer allowed outside to play and are now taken on indoor walks during their recess time.
Kitzman said there is more trash, drug use and drinking on campus since the movement came into the picture. She added that rats are now appearing on campus grounds, a recent assault arrest took place, and soap was stolen from one of the public restrooms. School officials have also found that the makeshift camp appears to attract individuals with mental illnesses and addiction problems, creating a bigger safety issue for the students who study on the school campus every day.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear that their [protesters] presence is at a real cost to Seattle Central Community College,” Kitzman told Seattle Pi.
The Cost of Free Speech
In addition, the college has told The Examiner that excess expenses associated with the movement are now costing the school $20,000 weekly. Most of that money is going for 24-hour campus security that has now become necessary, but costs for clean-up crews and other maintenance are also factored into that total. If this expense continues for an extended period of time, it could become a hefty bill for a school that has already stretched its annual budget to the limit.
“The huge issue here is not the protest itself,” Kitzman explained. “It’s the camping. It’s brought with it issues of health, security and safety for not only our campus and neighborhood, but for the protestors themselves.
What is Occupy Seattle?
According to the organization’s website, Occupy Seattle is a “diverse group of Seattleites” that have “begun a non-violent, extended occupation of Seattle.” The group is an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, a movement designed to get public officials and the general voting public to make changes within the country’s infrastructure that support the majority, rather than the interests of the wealthiest Americans. The group cites their Basecamp and General Assembly location to be Seattle Central Community College. However, the group also stages protests at Westlake Park and Seattle City Hall.
Members of the movement have told local media that they have been good neighbors to the college. The organization has brought in its own temporary bathroom facilities and cleaned up trash. One protester was reported at The Examiner as saying, “There was a dope dealer that came into the park and we said you had to leave, you’re not welcome here.”
The Quandary for Seattle Central
Despite the fact that the community college no longer wants protesters on their campus, they have been unable to find an acceptable and legal means of evicting them. However, this week, the college officials may give themselves a tool that can lead to the ousting of the campers. The school recently drafted an emergency rule that will outlaw any sort of camping on the college campus, according to a report at Seattle Pi. The rule would ban sleeping on school property, carrying out cooking activities and pitching tents. If enacted, the rule would be in effect for 120 days – time to get the protesters out if the school chooses.
If the vote passes this week, there has not been any word on when – or even if – the eviction process will start. However, for those who have dealt with the problems associated with the movement moving in, the eviction notice cannot come too soon.