Vigorous dissent, job-seeking coexist at campus career fair

Anti-military-recruitment demonstrators march toward the job fair held Tuesday at the University Center. Employers at the fair included the military. (Photo by Gwen Mickelson)
Students gather information from various employers inside the fair. (Photo by Jim Burns)

Protestors at last week's job fair at Colleges Nine and Ten maintained a noisy presence, while job-seekers filing into the event to check out their options said they understood the demonstrators' right to have their say.

Representatives of nearly 90 employing companies, non-profits, or government agencies came to this year's "Last Chance Job & Internship Fair." But the protest--held mostly outside the fair--involved several dozen people focused on only one type employer: the military.

The U.S. Marine Corps Officer Programs and the Army Health Care Team were among the government agencies seeking qualified applicants at the fair, which attracted 800 students and a sprinkling of alumni.

"I don't think recruiters should be at any campus," said protestor Emerald Snow, 19, a third-year anthropology student. She held a small sign reading, "The Solomon Amendment is silly," referring to the law that allows the government to deny federal funds--including financial aid--to colleges that limit recruiting.

Military recruiters left the campus during the "Last Chance" fair in 2006, saying a protest that year was endangering staff and other students at the fair. At last year's fair, no military recruiters were in attendance.

The military recruiters stayed throughout this year's fair, despite a demonstration recruiters have come to expect. "I don't really take it too seriously. I just know that's UC Santa Cruz," said Capt. Brian Lionbarger, officer selection officer for the United States Marine Corps, who was at the event with Capt. John Paul Wheatcroft. "It has a diverse population of students: there are the anti-war students, and then there's the other spectrum of students on the opposite side. It's great to see a school like that, that's very diverse."

Despite its liberal reputation, UCSC is fertile ground for Marines recruitment, said Lionbarger. "Every year, we get at least two to three out of UCSC that join the Marine Corps and become an officer," Lionbarger said. He added he has never recruited someone directly from a career fair at UCSC, though perhaps people who grabbed information off the Marines table followed up later.

Because it has a relatively large population of students, the number of academically qualified candidates at UCSC outnumbers that at Stanford, Santa Clara University, and San Jose State, three other schools Lionbarger recruits from.

"UCSC is top on my list of all my schools," he said.

Last year, the Marines didn't come to the job fair, but that was because of timing issues, said Lionbarger. Officer candidate slots had to be filled by mid to late May, which was tight in the first place, but also he had filled all his slots that year. This year, his deadline for filling slots was pushed back to July.

Students going into the job fair to make contacts with potential employers ignored the protest or watched with mild interest. Most were dressed in business-like attire, providing a jarring juxtaposition with the demonstrators, many of whom wore costumes or masks.

"I can understand their thoughts," said Jeff Taylor, 22, a fourth-year business management and economics major who was heading into the fair. He thought the protestors should maintain a civil stance toward the job-seekers, "but I know there are some people who believe in having them here."

Taylor planned to check out various employers including the San Francisco Police Department and the FBI.

Employers at the event included those from government, education, the nonprofit sector, social services, health and science, technology, and business and finance.

For second-year transfer student Allison Ruble, the job fair was a chance to get exposure to various career options.

"I'm graduating in June, and I don't really know what I'm doing," said Ruble, 23. A career advisor recommended the fair.

As for the protestors, Ruble said, "It's what they believe in. They have a right to do it. It does make me a little nervous, though."

Protestors marched from Quarry Plaza to the site of this year's fair, University Center and the Colleges Nine and Ten Multipurpose Room. Shortly after the job fair began, they started banging on paint-can drums, carrying signs, shouting into bullhorns, and chanting slogans such as, "Show me what democracy looks like!" "This is what democracy looks like!"

"I'm against the war in Iraq," said James Illingworth, 28, a graduate student in American history, explaining his participation in the protest. "It's part of the anti-war movement at the grass roots. And I'm also against homophobia and militarism."

For Lionbarger, the fair helps him "build awareness of his program and the fact that you can become and officer right out of college." He added, "You don't have to go through boot camp and go through the enlisted ranks--you can attend officer candidate school."

For other employers, too, the job fair provides a ready talent pool of educated workers.

"We're looking for critical thinkers," said Vic Kalata, store team leader and college recruiting coordinator for Target, which partners with UCSC's Career Center.

From 70 to 80 percent of "executive" positions at Target-jobs such as assistant managers and store team leaders-are filled with candidates from college campuses, said Kalata.

As for the protest, "It's neat to see the freedom of speech," Kalata said. "The disappointing piece of the puzzle is these are students who are seniors, and this is their last chance to get a job. Sometimes the protestors can disrupt that."

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