Vivian Malauulu recalls her humble beginnings of coming to this country as a 7-year-old Honduran immigrant; She couldn’t speak English and left all of her family and friends behind in Central America, but she also left behind the “dirt poor” living conditions—no indoor plumbing, shared outhouse facilities and a home located in one of San Pedro Sula’s poorest alleys.
Her move to Carson, CA, where her mother met her soon-to-be stepfather, spurred her interest in education as it was one of the few things she could do given her limited ability to socialize. In only three months she tested out of an English as a Second Language (ESL) program and entered the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program before eventually becoming the homecoming queen at Banning High School in Wilmington.
Her ascension from poor immigrant with few friends to president of each student body she was a part of through high school included many personal triumphs, but was also marked by several instances where her willingness to fight for others was tested.
At the age of 15 she helped organize her 9th grade prom when faculty was locked out by a strike that prevented them from putting on the event. She helped plan the event, book the venue and even print and sell the tickets to ensure the show went on. At the same time, she penned a letter to the editor of the now-defunct San Pedro News Pilot demanding that the administrators of the Los Angeles Unified School District settle with the teachers who were in the midst of a months-long strike because it was negatively impacting students’ readiness for high school.
It ran on the front page.
“I got mad and wrote the district telling them they needed to settle with the teachers,” Malauulu said. “We were being educated by scab teachers and we were being driven by scab bus drivers.”
Malauulu is now part of the public school system that she advocated for as a middle school student and she’s hoping to take that advocacy to one of the highest steps—locally—by running for the Long Beach Community College (LBCC) District Area 2 Trustee seat. After nearly two decades in public education, including her current stint as a journalism professor at LBCC, and 16 years as part of the West Long Beach community the trustee seat represents, she felt it was time to run for the position that has gone without a vote by the public for nearly the same 20-year span.
“Roberto [Uranga] ran un-opposed for 14 years and then there was an appointment made with two years left on his term,” Malauulu said of the 2014 appointment process that occurred after Uranga was elected to the Long Beach City Council and resulted in her opponent, Irma Archuleta, being named the area two trustee. “When there’s one year left on a city council [term] they have an election, why should the city college be any less?”
She fashions herself as a champion of the people, a self-styled Bernie Sanders type, if you will—minus the democratic socialism—and a voice of the community, something that she says is reflective both in her work experience as an educator, journalist and longshore worker at the Port of Long Beach, and also in her ethnically diverse family—she’s Honduran, her stepfather is African-American and her husband and children are Samoan. She’s “Vivian down the street”—coincidentally, the same street that Archuleta lives on, their houses separated by less than a football field’s length.
Her rise from poverty and the struggle to put herself through school is something she says her students can relate to, and she said to have that kind of element on the board would be valuable to the community.
Malauuu wears a hardhat and can name the brand of boots that workers in project labor agreements wear, something that she says gives her not only a personal connection to the people that the board’s decisions affect, but a blue-collar vantage point that no other person on the board possesses. Her standing as a professor has endeared her to faculty, as evidenced by her endorsement list’s inclusion of multiple teacher, faculty and labor unions.
“It helps me understand the balance of contract negotiations and also it gives me an insight that no other board member has as a union member of a trade union as well as an academic union,” Malauulu said of her resumé.
She said there are three key areas highlighted as points of focus should she win the trustee seat in the April 12 election, but none of them are more important than student achievement. She noted the grim figures for the transfer and graduation rates at LBCC, pointing out that nearly 40 percent of students have a GPA under 2.0, attributing much of that to lack of resources like classrooms but also full-time instructors to teach inside them.
Malauulu said she would re-allocate resources to close the gap between the roughly 200 full-time faculty and 700 with adjunct-status at the school and hire more full-time faculty because the faculty is what makes the College Promise work. In order for it to continue working, she said the instructors need to be able to offer office hours and more fully participate in their students’ education rather than having a majority of the faculty operating as “freeway flyers” and trying to cover their own living expenses.
“They call us freeway flyers because we run out of our office to drive to another community college and then we run out of that one because we have to patch together an income,” Malauulu said of the conditions many adjunct professors work under. “We have to piece together enough to pay our mortgage by teaching at four or five community colleges because the colleges we teach at don’t hire us full time.”
That plays into low morale, which has been addressed numerous times at LBCCD board meetings by both faculty members and the organizations that represent them. Improving morale by hiring more full-time instructors also tops Malauulu’s list of items she’d tackle if she’s elected to the board. She noted that faculty working conditions are “definitely reflective” of the students’ learning conditions. Improving this climate at the college can help create an institution that all parties are proud to be a part of, something she’s striving to create.
Some of those conditions, like the 13 trade programs that were cut in 2013 that led to calls from students to recall Uranga and current Board President Doug Otto. She said student achievement can’t be improved without resources, but she said it’s important to note that some of those students are there to renew welding certificates, not to transfer to a four-year college.
She’s supportive of the board’s proposed $850 million bond measure, something the school said it needs to make necessary repairs and upgrades to classrooms and laboratories and to bring the college up to earthquake and accessibility requirements through the college’s 2041 master plan.
However, as she stated during a city-wide candidate forum earlier this month, she feels there should be an exemption for seniors. She said that combined with a potential sales tax increase that was placed on the June ballot by the city council and an anticipated bond measure from the Long Beach Unified School Board, it could place an unfair burden on those with fixed incomes.
She believes that the LBCC bond is important to the health of the school’s facilities, but said that the LBUSD measure is equally, if not more important, as its aim is to install much needed air conditioning units in classrooms throughout the city.
“I really have a heart for kids, I have a heart for labor, I have a heart for education and I have a heart for the elderly,” Malauulu said. “With this bond measure, I would’ve asked for some kind of senior exemption because the city is already going to raise the sales tax by one percent, and in November Long Beach Unified is going to have another measure to do air conditioning on campus, which I think is more of a priority.”
Malauulu knows that the race will be tight and feels that grip is part this being her first plunge into a Long Beach elected office, but also part “fighting against the establishment.”
There are the arguments that she lacks policy experience—she has a masters in education administration, an administrative services credential from the state and volunteers on a handful of commissions—and that she’s backed by “private interest groups,” an assertion Superintendent President Eloy Oakley made in statement earlier this year when he publicly endorsed Archuleta.
Then there’s the potentially awkward marriage between an active journalist becoming part of the political sphere. This, Malauulu, said would serve as a benefit to her as the ethos of a journalist—seeking and reporting the truth, minimizing harm, avoiding conflicts of interest and being accountable and transparent—are values that should be present in all elected bodies.
“I think that any background in journalism or communications is an asset to anyone serving in a publicly elected office,” Malauulu said. “The fact that you understand the importance of transparency and you understand the freedom of information [act] and the public’s right to know, as a journalist and as a professor of journalism, I think I’ll be an asset as a board member.”