What began as a trustees’ meeting at Santa Monica College became a melee Tuesday night. Before it was over, student protesters were screaming, writhing on the floor and pouring milk over their faces to counter the effects of pepper spray. They'd tried to express their opposition to what they consider an unfair tuition pricing plan.
Marioly Gomez, a freshman at Santa Monica College, was one of the students pepper-sprayed. She described the way she felt on what she calls one of the worst nights of her life.
"It was so strong my face was burning," Gomez said. "I got hosed down by the firefighters. ... Actually with the hose of a firefighter. I got completely hosed down. The water was freezing and there was still that burning sensation on my face, and my chest was hurting so bad that I got some oxygen. But the pain was so severe that I got transported to the UCLA Medical Center emergency room."
Gomez was one of about 100 protesters who tried to enter a trustees meeting. The students oppose a plan that would almost triple the cost of some the most crowded course offerings.
College officials say they regret that a handful of students acted in an unlawful manner that lead to panic and chaos on campus.
Mike Tiutasi, vice president of student affairs, says campus officers pepper-sprayed about a dozen students and a 4-year-old girl whose mother was demonstrating against the fee increases.
Tiutasi says the board of trustees has offered to pay for those victims’ medical expenses. " That was the directive from the board. And we can take care of any medical issues that may have come up as a result of that."
Santa Monica College President Chui Tsang says the institution has launched a full investigation into the matter.