Car or jungle beast, the big cat represents power, reverence and ferocity.
Southwestern College proudly displays the Jaguar as its mascot. Still, in spite of all the terrific people and resources here, it hardly seems like a fitting moniker considering the college’s reputation as a poorly-run, scandal-plagued commuter school with a packed parking lot that gradually becomes a ghost town as the semester progresses.
Utter the name Southwestern and cynicism, nihilism or defeatism often follows.
SWC is called “Harvard on the Hill” and “ASU: Across the Street University.”
Jaguar identity is lost in this messy, sordid rhetoric. South Bay students flee to City College and Grossmont, afraid of getting trapped in what they see as a dead end.
SWC is unlikely to inspire the devoted fan bases of name brand schools but does the college and its students really deserve to be the Ebola-faking South Bay oddity that is the butt of jokes at UCSD parties?
Community colleges are inherently different than universities. In many ways that is a good thing. Two-year institutions focus on general education classes to transfer or a certificate to move into a real world job. It is cheaper, which means there is more time to figure out what you want to do and experiment with different majors. Students usually do not have to deal with the adjustment process after leaving home.
Minuses include the likelihood that students are likely already friendly with their peers from high school, meaning they do not meet many new people. There is no academically-strenuous application process, so there is no badge of honor for acceptance.
When South Bay high school students hear about their peers getting into name brand universities, it is hard not to fall into a cynical attitude about Southwestern. Students are discouraged by a cycle of educational elitism that is too often perpetrated by snooty high school counselors.
This is especially troubling considering the South Bay is a racially, culturally and economically diverse area of San Diego County and SWC is the higher education that represents it. Minority students in National City are not inherently inferior to white students in Otay Ranch, especially not because of where they go to college. Both groups do not necessarily have the same opportunities, and that says nothing about who makes the most of them.
There are students excelling in community college after coasting through high school because they know this may be their last shot. There are students at universities doing the exact opposite because they know they have a community college safety net.
It is not just the students. Many professors and instructors are ready to go to war for their students. Even administrators, counselors and classified workers hold up student success as their chief goal, save for a bribe-taking bad apple or two.
Are the Grammy-winning instructors or record-setting track stars lesser because they spend the school day at SWC?
Students and staff represent countless unique stories and dreams. They are not just Plaza Bonita brats wasting time at 13th grade of SUHSD. Most Jaguars are serious college students.
In fact, with university tuitions and importance of higher education growing, the SWC community should look at President Obama’s push for affordable community college as the perfect opportunity.
Time to flip the script. Embrace community college and all it offers. SWC should be leading the charge.
Expand your circle of peers beyond the old high school friends. Flock to the organizations around campus. Administrators need to think about how their poor choices and missteps affect students. After all, accreditation is around the corner and the people here deserve better than to go through another episode involving that again.
SWC will never be and should never be the colleges that are on the names of streets nearby, but this is the institution most accessible to tens of thousands of students in San Diego County. Our diversity and dedicated instructors here should be cherished and embraced as strengths. We have Grammy-and Emmy-winning instructors, a national champion newspaper and magazine, the planet’s best collegiate mariachi and a nationally recognized debate team. SWC is a cultural destination in San Diego County for visual art, theater, dance and music.
We are Jaguars, not gerbils. We need to act that way.