By Julia Guest
Last Thursday night, concerned students piled into Classroom Unit 1 for the “Student Justice Teach-In,” an event held in support of Christopher David Benterou and Cruz Adam Molina. Benterou and Molina, both first-year students, are being sued by UC Santa Cruz due to their affiliation with the Long-Range Development Plan (LRDP) protest last November.
Molina faces a court hearing today at the University Inn.
An injunction released on Monday listed five others as well: Ryan Joshua Comini, Nicholas Michael Varinelli, Robin Michael Woolner, Natalie Amber Muller and Zack Schlesinger.
The injunction prevents Benterou, Molina, the other five defendants listed and “all other persons with notice of the injunction” from loitering in or around the trees at the protest site, bringing items such as sleeping bags and trash cans to the site, and providing food or supplies to denizens of the trees.
Molina requested that today’s hearing be an open hearing, but the university denied his request.
Both Molina and Benterou will appear without representation. The university’s judicial system does not allow students to be represented by lawyers.
“I think that’s really imbalanced: a student versus a person who has 30 years of doing this,” Benterou said.
Still waiting to be assigned a court date, Benterou questions issues of due process, federal rules and basic rights related to both his and Molina’s cases.
Police confronted Benterou and Molina at the tree-sit in November.
“Cruz and I knew there was a protest, so we went to check it out,” Benterou said. “We were in the area just talking and sitting. Some police rolled up and started questioning people and asking them what was going on. He asked, ‘Are these people your guests?’ It was kind of a vague question. He said, ‘We’re going to arrest everybody if they’re not your guests.’ So we said yes and gave him our IDs.”
Benterou had no idea that he would receive a sanction letter from the university four months later, he said. The letter outlined possible consequences of Benterou’s presence at the protest. The letter then stated that Benterou [and Molina] would be held responsible for the actions of those at the protest.
The letter also listed possible consequences, including a quarter of suspension, a decision-making workshop and 100 hours of community service.
The university dropped initial monetary charges for the protest.
The university also has 50 spaces for names of people they hope to find involved in the protest.
The lawsuit will be against seven people, but until Monday, the lawsuit was against nine defendants. Judge Paul Burdick ruled that the university’s lawsuit violated the First Amendment rights of Jennifer Charles, media spokesperson for the tree-sitters, and Oliver Schmid, a tree-sit supporter. The university must now pay fees to Charles’ and Schmid’s lawyers for the amendment violation.
On Monday, Burdick also gave the green light to the rest of the suit. David Kliger, UCSC’s executive vice chancellor, sent out a press release about this part of the injunction.
“The court’s order affirms that this tree occupation was and is unlawful and not, as some have claimed, protecting free speech,” Kliger wrote in his campus-wide e-mail.
The e-mail also links to an online copy of the injunction.
At the Student Justice Teach-In last Thursday, the Benterou and Molina case sparked heated student discussion of the university’s relationship with its students.
Students brainstormed ideas for taking action to help Benterou and Molina. One organizer for the teach-in, Kot Hordynski, a fourth-year politics and environmental studies major, will put up flyers about the issue and continue to call the administration to voice his opinion, he said.
“No one really knows about this,” Hordynski said. “It’s crucial more of the student body knows how serious this thing is.”
Student attendees pitched multiple ideas such as gaining parent and community support, making class announcements and organizing a student strike.
Janine Carmona, a fourth-year community studies major, stressed the lack of student power in administrative decisions. She criticized the dialogue format the university proposes.
“There is no communication after students give their thoughts,” Carmona said. “The administration is not able to listen to student input in a meaningful way because there’s no actual policy change afterward.”
Doug Zuidema, director of Student Judicial Affairs, has no problem with protest, he said.
“We don’t discipline people for protesting,” Zuidema said. “As long as they comply with the time, place and manner and they don’t disobey the law.”
Due to Monday’s court hearing and the ongoing conflict between student and university interests, Kliger plans to establish a campus-wide mediation program, which he hopes will help solve disputes within the UCSC community.
Benterou said the teach-in provided him with a sense of community.
“If it were just me alone, I’d be way more stressed, but I’m not the only one in this position,” he said. “This could be anyone.”