Late in September, a piece of legislation became law with little fanfare but with great implications for the humanity and dignity of some of our most at-risk students. Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1995 (Williams), which opens the doors, literally, for homeless students to use on-campus shower facilities. Prior to this legislation, students could only use college shower facilities if they were enrolled in a physical education class. The legislation removes that requirement and allows students who are enrolled in any coursework and have paid their fees to use the shower facilities during appointed times. The bill had strong support from the Student Senate for California Community College. The new law goes into effect January 1, 2017, and local boards are required to develop implementation plans.
According to the website for bill author Das Williams, who himself was homeless when he attended a community college many years ago, “California has the highest rate of homeless youth in the nation and twice the rate of homeless students than the national average.” For those thousands of homeless youth attending California’s community colleges, not having basic needs such as hygiene, food, and shelter met causes pursuit of knowledge, engagement with instructors and peers, and a sense of belonging in the academy to suffer, further limiting their potential to pull themselves out of their situation and slowing their progress toward their long-term personal, educational, and professional goals. Also, fear of being perceived as inferior and other stereotypes and stigma associated with homelessness become less stifling for students under this change. This legislative change is a step in the direction of supporting all students and making our system equitable and welcoming for all.
Faculty can take steps to help ensure that this new law is implemented appropriately and effectively at their colleges. The bill calls for local governing board implementation and stipulates specific parameters for the change. As advocates for homeless students, faculty can reach out to their administration and board members to encourage speedy adoption of a policy and plan for opening facilities for students. They can partner with their associated student organization to raise awareness of these issues among the student body and build on the momentum they began by supporting the bill in the legislative process. They can integrate the issues surrounding homelessness into their teaching assignments and encourage critical dialog among their colleagues on the issue of homelessness among community college students, an issue that many faculty and staff may not even realize exists.
In the pursuit of equitable opportunity for all California community college students, homelessness, hunger, and other social stigmas and roadblocks take an untold toll on student well-being and success. The governor and the legislature have handed faculty and staff across the state an opportunity to reach out to those students and show them that they are valued and accepted. Faculty should be the change on their campuses and work with their administrators to open the doors to dignity for all students.
Governor Jerry Brown Signs Das Williams’ Shower Bill, http://asmdc.org/members/a37/news-room/press-releases/gov-jerry-brown-signs-das-williams-shower-bill