Changing Hawaii

By Diane Yukihiro Chang

Friday, August 28, 1998

Student devastated
by shabby treatment

UH students who think their lives are tough because they can't find on-street parking should take a lesson in perspective from Lisa Yonashiro. The 28-year-old Salt Lake resident is lucky to be attending classes at all this semester, especially after a bureaucratic foul-up nearly barred her transfer to West Oahu College.

The traumatic experience also made Lisa realize how little respect students get in Hawaii, especially if they don't have money or influential friends.

Lisa graduated from Campbell High in 1988 with good grades and big dreams. But those expectations were shattered by an abusive marriage.

After frequent trips to the hospital for head injuries, cuts, bruises and broken bones, she finally left her husband of six years and found herself with no work skills and a daughter to support.

Then she saw a TV commercial for the "Women in Transition" program at Leeward Community College, and signed up for two courses.

For the first time, Lisa could see a flicker of hope in a dark existence. Thanks to welfare payments and food stamps, she was able to transfer to Honolulu Community College as a full-time student. Her goal: to get a double liberal arts degree in justice administration and sociology. She studied hard, often until 1 or 2 a.m.

Early this summer, she decided to move on up to bigger, newer West Oahu College. That's when she wrongly assumed that everyone at that campus would be as nice and responsive as the folks at the community college level.

On being accepted into WOC in June, Lisa got all of her applications together for financial aid and requests for transcripts. She called during the summer to check on the progress, and was assured by staff that all was well.

Then, only this month, Lisa was told that WOC could not process any of her forms because she had an unpaid library fine back at LCC. By the time she paid the 20 bucks, the deadline had passed to get a tuition waiver. She would have to sit out the semester.

"I fell apart. I started crying," said Lisa. "I had been working so hard because I wanted to get off welfare and stay off the system. I wanted to better my life and my daughter's life. But that's when I understood that everything students can do depends on the administrators.

"It hit me hard and made me realize that what an HCC professor once told us in class was true: 'Students have no rights.' "

LISA panicked. She called the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor, state ombudsman, college deans, legislators, and even the president of the UH system, wanting some answers. In response, she always got a "Let me get back to you" or, more often, no return calls to her messages.

All she wanted was for somebody to say sorry for the screw-up. Instead, administrators accused her, claiming that she was the one at fault, even though Lisa knows otherwise.

"An apology would have worked fine. But when they said I was to blame, that made me even more mad," she said.

This story has a happy ending, sort of.

Lisa's parents, who aren't exactly rolling in dough either, let her borrow $1,000 for books and tuition, which she has sworn to repay. Meanwhile, she is still waiting for an explanation and mea culpa from somebody.

Well, Lisa, how about this: Sorry, but students -- the Rodney Dangerfields of this community -- get no respect.

Diane Yukihiro Chang's column runs Monday and Friday.
She can be reached by phone at 525-8607, via e-mail at, or by fax at 523-7863.

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