Educational Opportunity Program marches on

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The Educational Opportunity Program, which offers educational access to low-income and first-generation students, now offers its services to 3,500 students at CSUN, with the program flourishing in recent years.

The EOP was established after student activists demanded change in 1969, though the road to getting funding for the program was long.

In April 1969, the state Legislature passed a bill that established the concept of a statewide EOP system. The bill was inspired in part by a large number of lower-income and first-generation students who transferred to other state schools from community colleges in the 1960s.

By the fall of 1968, however, the enrollment of African-American and Chicano/a lower-income students who had transferred to the then-San Fernando Valley State College was less than 2 percent of the student body.

“(In) most cases, students wanted to change not only (the) curriculum, but also open admission to students who (were) shut out the university,” said Glenn Omatsu, coordinator of the Faculty Mentor Program for EOP.

In 1968, students and some faculty came together and voiced their desire to increase the population of African-American and Chicano/a students on campus.

“They tried to make sure that all students have the chance to go to (a) university,” Omatsu said.

During this time, two education professors wrote a grant proposal and submitted it to the Los Angeles office for the federal War on Poverty programs. The grant encouraged diversity on campus and a possible program to help lower-income students attend the campus.

“The understanding (in the late 1960s) was that students from minority communities were not able to go to (a) university because they didn’t have enough money,” said Jose Luis Vargas, director of the EOP and an alumnus of CSUN. “They didn’t have the resources (to attend college) and also those students were typically first-generation. So the grant was written specifically to target students from those communities” that were underrepresented on campus.

In late 1968 and early 1969, students held several demonstrations, many of which concerned the need for a program like EOP.

The demonstrations originated from a 1968 altercation between a white CSUN football coach and an African-American player. Students insisted that the school’s administrators punish the coach for his actions, Vargas said.

When the administration did not take any action, a group of students occupied the Student Services Building, now known as Bayramian Hall, which was then the administration building. The students held administrators hostage for several hours.

Vargas said the students eventually demanded that the school provide educational opportunities for minority students. Student activists then helped to create the Ethnic Studies Department and EOP.

Most students who got involved with the demonstration were seniors. Vargas was a freshman at the time.

“My participation was limited, but I understood the passion senior students had because when you walk into the classroom, you (have) a feeling you maybe don’t belong,” Vargas said. “I was present (at the demonstration), but honestly I wasn’t totally sure what I was supposed to do, because that was my first year here, but I agreed with students in terms of (the idea that) there wasn’t equal opportunity.”

“One of the things (the 1969) bill talked about is the identification of students who (demonstrate) potential to be successful,” Vargas said. “They wanted to go to school.”

“It was basically to provide students (an) EOP grant,” he said. “The administration funding came later in 1971-72.”

In 1971, the school agreed to let EOP help 500 students come to the college for the fall semester and the program started to grow. Because the bill that allowed the existence of EOP allowed only $2,000 for EOP students at the time, however, the money given to the school did not fully cover all 500 students.

“As the program’s acknowledgment grew, the grant stayed the same,” Vargas said.

As the number of applicants increased, each campus tried to find their own solution. CSUN’s EOP decided to give less money to more students instead of giving $2,000 to a limited amount of students.

“Today, EOP students get $800. It doesn’t help them pay a semester’s tuition,” Vargas said. “We can only bring as many students as we can provide (assistance to).”

The state’s fiscal crisis and its affected on higher education could affect the existence of the EOP, which would likely create problems, as the program now works with approximately 30,000 students in the CSU.

“This is actually a very critical time, because Gov. (Arnold) Schwarzenegger proposed (that) he would completely eliminate EOP in (the) state of California when he became governor,” Omatsu said. “This created a crisis, because the program has been very successful.”

Soon after the CSUN campus found out that EOP’s future could potentially be in question, students and campus communities protested the idea. Last year, however, state lawmakers decided to keep EOP.

“That was one challenge,” Vargas said. “If the same thing happens again, the community will come out.”

EOP also established other programs within its office, such as the Bridge Program, which helps freshmen transition to college life. The Bridge Program was created in 1968, but it was not formally established until the 1980s.

“Students are struggling to get more accustomed to the university because they need a lot more transitioning into college,” said Shiva Parsa, coordinator for the Bridge Program. “That’s why we have transitional programs in EOP.”

Students participate in the six-week seminar that the program offers as they take classes during the summer to get more familiar with the university and gain study skills before the fall semester. By the fall, the students already have units and know students and faculty.

“When they come here through (the) EOP program, they are putting us into the six-week development with other students to have a friendship (with) each other,” said Joel Olmos, a senior biology major who works at the EOP office. “They’ve kept the friendship throughout their whole career at CSUN.”

Aya Oikawa can be reached at aya.oikawa.73@csun.edu.