At tranquil, conservative Chapman College in Orange, student protests are rare.
And Wednesday's student demonstration at the college was not only rare, it was also a piece of art.
"We call it performance art," said Andrew DeAngelo, 20, a junior from Washington, D.C. "With our art, we're letting the college administration know we're not happy with their action."
Behind him, male and female students were singing protest songs, seated outdoors on real furniture as though they were inside real homes. A sign placed in front of this tableaux asked: "What happened here?"
House Torn Down
The answer: Seven houses, some of which had been used by Chapman College fraternities and sororities, had been torn down in August to make room for a parking lot. Students were literally acting out their frustration over the loss of the houses on the site of the newly tarred parking lot, which was drying even as they protested.
Chapman administrators said the houses, on Center and Grand streets near Walnut Avenue, were owned by the college and have always been scheduled for demolition. "Eventually the college will be building new student apartments on the land," said Susan Hunter Hancock, Chapman's dean of students.
Hancock said that while fraternity and sorority members had lived in some of the houses, "the college never said the houses were to be Greek row, and we never had the intention of providing homes for the fraternities and sororities."
Students at the protest site on Wednesday seemed to agree that Chapman College had no obligation to provide houses for fraternities and sororities. But students said the decision to raze the houses came without any consultation with them or with the student government.
Moreover, they called the action premature, because the college did not have city zoning permission to convert the land to parking when Chapman razed the houses.
'Still No Parking'
College administrators "didn't consult with anybody," said Dave Nielsen, 21, president of the Associated Student Body, the student government organization.
"They told us they needed the land for a parking lot, but there's still no parking here," said Meghan Curry, 19, a sophomore from Costa Mesa and member of Gamma Delta Kappa, one of the displaced sororities.
According to Hancock, the college had to act quickly to tear down the houses because the city this year enacted a law barring parking by non-residents on streets around the college. The law came in reaction to resident complaints about parking by students at the private, four-year college.
Hancock acknowledged that conversion of the land to a parking lot was temporarily delayed while the college sought permission from city planning officials.
"We have that now, and the land has been tarred, and the tar is now curing," Hancock said. The new parking lot, which will accommodate 126 cars, will open in about two weeks, she said.
When the college, in the next two or three years, builds new student apartments on the land, the overall design will provide some form of parking above or below the ground, she added.
"We've always planned to use this land," Hancock said. "But the students have a point in saying that there could have been better communication. We're working to see that something like this doesn't happen again."
Some of the protesting students Wednesday said the razing of the houses was part of an anti-fraternity, anti-sorority bias by the college administration. Hancock answered:
"Absolutely not. We get upset at times with their (fraternity and sorority) actions, but so does every other college. If we wanted to get rid of them, though, we'd wouldn't go about it this way."
Nonetheless, the homeless "Greeks," as fraternity and sorority members collectively call themselves, mourned their razed buildings as they sang and acted on the vacant lot that used to be their living quarters.
No Special Problems
DeAngelo said Chapman Representatives for Artistic Freedom and Talent, a student group that specializes in performance art, had orchestrated Wednesday's demonstration.
College officials said the protest caused no special problems, but campus security officers repeatedly had to order protesters off the newly tarred parking area "because the tar is still curing."
At one point Wednesday afternoon, as a campus police officer approached, fraternity members who were on the forbidden tarred area broke into a chant: "Hell no, we won't go!"
But the young men and women did go a few minutes later. Without incident, and in good humor, they moved to a nearby sidewalk to continue their daylong protest.
Hancock said: "Students certainly have the right to express their views. . . . I'm just glad they're not storming the administration building."