Suzette Martinez Valladares | Protests and the Importance of Education

Suzette Martinez Valladares, Right Here, Right Now

The recent violent protests at UCLA have stirred deep concern and raised pertinent questions about the sanctity of our academic institutions. 

Previously I served as executive director of Autism Speaks, and that was largely motivated by my autistic niece. Despite her early struggles with severe developmental delays and being non-verbal, she’s now getting ready to tackle college life at Northwestern on scholarship. I’m incredibly proud of her, but also incredibly nervous. I imagine many family members with kids in our university system have similar nervous feelings.

These issues and events we are witnessing at UCLA, and to be fair, other institutions around the country, strike at the heart of our educational values.

Students pursuing their education deserve a safe, respectful environment conducive to learning. Unfortunately, recent events have showcased chaos, intimidation and lawlessness, orchestrated by fringe elements funded by extremist groups with troubling agendas. It is imperative that these actions are met with consequences, ensuring that free speech and expression, crucial pillars of our democracy, are safeguarded for all.

During my tenure on the Committee on Higher Education, I had numerous engagements with school presidents and leaders from various educational systems. It became evident that our campuses and universities are not just places of learning but also belong to all Californians, serving the public good. This realization underscores the need for accountability from university leadership when faced with challenges such as unchecked extremism, curtailed free speech, and rising sentiments of racism and antisemitism.

In light of recent events, one might be tempted to lose faith in higher education. However, education remains a cornerstone of progress for families, communities and future generations. Institutions like CalArts, College of the Canyons, Antelope Valley Community College and The Master’s College play pivotal roles in shaping our intellectual landscape. Furthermore, I strongly advocate for establishing an independent California State University – High Desert, aligning with the economic developments in regions like the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys. That university has been championed for years by Sen. Scott Wilk, and now I’m grateful he supports me continuing that cause.

Yet, our focus on education cannot be limited to traditional avenues. While K-12 education remains fundamental, we must also prioritize and bolster career technical education. CTE equips young individuals with practical skills and apprenticeships vital for success in diverse industries such as film, technology, health care, and the trades. Our community colleges, exemplified by institutions like COC, play pivotal roles in bridging these skill gaps and propelling workforce readiness.

As a member of the California Assembly representing this area, I voted to expand and develop access to community colleges on bills like the College and Career Access Pathways partnership, facilitating seamless transitions for high school students into CTE programs at community colleges. Assembly Bill 102 in 2022 received great bipartisan support and was ultimately signed into law by the governor. These efforts underscore the commitment important to me and so many others in preparing students not just for college but also for meaningful careers aligned with evolving industry and economic demands.

Amidst the ongoing and recent discourse surrounding our traditional four-year universities, we must not overlook the pivotal role of community colleges and CTE programs in shaping our workforce. By investing in these educational pathways, we empower the next generation of workers and foster a dynamic and inclusive workforce reflective of California’s diversity and innovation.

Suzette Martinez Valladares is Santa Clarita’s former assemblywoman, wife, girl mom, avid DIY’er and a monthly contributor to The Signal’s “Right, Here Right Now,” which appears Saturdays and rotates among local Republicans.

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