Night students cut short on resources, club says
By David Struett
Marnee Ostoa ran into obstacles when she started taking evening classes at Harold Washington.
“When I came here [after work] I had no idea what I was doing,” Ostoa said. “If you come here after five, all of the offices are closed.”
As a new night student at Harold Washington, she noticed that advisors were always gone when she got here. The club and student government offices were closed too. Job and transfer fairs ended hours before she showed up.
“There aren’t many opportunities for me to find out what resources are available to me,” Ostoa said. She soon realized that her peers shared her concerns.
“I didn’t want the same thing to happen to other night students,” Ostoa said, so she decided to form a club.
Night Student Advocates (or NSA for short), which recently had its third meeting, was created by Ostoa to represent night students who feel invisible to the school administration, she said.
“I guess because most offices are closed in the nighttime, they don’t understand the needs that [night students] also have because they don’t see us,” Ostoa said.
The club’s objectives are to extend office hours into the evening and to widen the course selection after 5 p.m. to include essential classes.
At least two members of the club claimed that some of their required classes are not offered here at night. To finish their degrees, they have to attend to other City College campuses to finish their degrees.
“We’d all have to quit our jobs if we wanted to finish our schooling here,” said Stewart Jimenez, an executive of the club.
The Night Student Advocates also want daytime events to be scheduled for the evening too, like job and transfer fairs. Ostoa is actively recruiting schools to participate in an evening transfer fair, she said.
“We just want to bring those same resources that the morning students get to the evening,” Ostoa said. “That’s all we really want.”
Ostoa has a history of activism. She campaigned years ago for the DREAM act, which, if passed into law, would provide a path to residency for undocumented childhood arrivals.
Ostoa is not shy about her undocumented status. She has told her story of crushed aspirations for Hollywood stardom. She managed to be cast for a film role as a child, but was devastated to learnthat she was undocumented and could not accept the job.
Now Ostoa is focusing her efforts on night students who she thinks lack representation.
Although the NSA club is less than a semester young, it has already seen results.
The college has scheduled a trial run for extended advising hours and Student Government office hours, apparently in response to the club’s advocacy, Ostoa said.
The trial for the Advising office will test the demand for advisors in the evening, when night students could use it, Ostoa said. The test-run is scheduled for Nov. 7 and Dec. 5, both Tuesdays, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Word of mouth was apparently the reason for the new late-hours trials, said Ostoa. The SGA president, who is familiar with the club and its goals, pushed for those extended hours, she said.
The SGA offices scheduled a test for extended hours on Oct. 30 and Nov. 6, when the offices are open until 8 p.m.
But even though the club has clear arguments and a list of reasons for what they want, the college has strong reasons against expanding those resources.
Extending the office hours beyond the typical 9-to-5 day could be the extra cost to the school, something that might be difficult overcome as the school tries to pare down its expenses, said Faculty Council President Kamran Swanson in an email.
Other obstacles might include union contracts which dictate work hours for advisers and staff, Swanson wrote. Additional security might be a concern too, since the amount of security depends on the number of people in the building.
But even though the issues Ostoa’s club has pointed out may seem obviously unfair for many night students, the college has been silent on these disparities until recently.
“As far as I’m aware, no faculty or administrator has seriously taken this up as an issue,” Swanson wrote.
College administration acknowledged the role of the club and reiterated its recent efforts to test later advising hours.
“We realize the importance of serving our evening students and, with that objective in mind, fully support that the NSA group organized themselves,” HWC VP Armen Sarrafian wrote in an e-mail. “We also have advising staying open late on Tuesday nights and our Student Activities department is currently working on providing evening/non-traditional programming for our students.”
During an club meeting late October, Ostoa gave a presentation on applying for scholarships. She said she worked hard researching and speaking with HWC’s transfer office to get the best information she could.
NSA’s club advisor, professor Jeffrey Daniels, presented on the do’s and don’ts of reference letters and personal statements. His lecture on the benefits of showing humility in personal statements seemed to resonate with the classroom of over 15 students.
After the presentation, Daniels spoke about the intention of the club and its goodwill to the college.
“As an advisor I always want to emphasize that this group doesn’t exist in opposition to the administration, the school and how it runs,” Daniels said. “Rather, we just want to better articulate the needs of evening students.”
But that worry of making enemies and being a politicized club does not seem to be a problem yet.
“I don’t think we’ve had anything but positive feedback,” he said.
Among the issues important to night students, Daniels said that the lack of required courses for evening students was the most pressing.
“The required math course, the required English course, those are one I really want to make sure the evening students have access to,” Daniels said. “There’s no reason we should have such hardworking students feel they cannot graduate without going to another school. They should be able to fulfill all their needs on this campus.”
There is also an untapped source of students who could take those classes, he said. Those students could benefit the college because night students tend to have a higher retention rate. Unlike the day students, who the college competes for with the several downtown universities, the night students are ripe for the taking, Daniels said.
Forming the Night Students club was difficult at first because night students don’t have a strong community, Ostoa said. But she seems to be changing that already.
For Ostoa, her argument is simple.
“We pay the same tuition,” Ostoa said, “so why aren’t we getting the same resources?”
The Night Student Advocates club meets every other Tuesday on the 6th floor at 7:30 p.m.