The Students of Color Collective (SOCC) finished a week of hunger strikes, optimistic about the success of their protest. Situating their demonstration at the base of campus, SOCC proved to be an organized and resilient group of concerned students.
Irene Vasquez, a fourth-year Merrill student double majoring in environmental studies and economics, said that the SOCC protest started on May 25 with about 20 hunger strikers. Participation varied from a 24-hour fast to those who are committed to starve until demands are met.
The SOCC was established at the end of April in reaction to the growing concern over budget cuts and their impact on the quality of education available for students of color at UC Santa Cruz, with many programs no longer offered.
“The hunger strikers are bringing attention to our list of demands, including the DREAM Act and the university making campus a safe sanctuary,” Vasquez said.
The DREAM Act provides undocumented students with conditional permanent residency, allowing many to attend college.
Twelve people are still fasting, Vasquez said, surviving on a drink mix of water, cayenne pepper, honey and lemon for energy.
Protesters wore red ties to indicate that they had fasted since Tuesday. Some students wore purple ties on their biceps to indicate their “standing solidarity” and support for those fasting.
By May 28, residents of Family Student Housing (FSH) and the New UC group joined SOCC at the base of campus. The groups participated in a one-day protest, both for their own causes and in solidarity with SOCC. Leaders of the three organizations said that their protests were distinct and autonomous from one another.
Still, delegates from each group were in contact throughout the day. FSH’s agenda to stop rent increases, and the New UC’s desire was to keep administrative processes transparent and the UC system public, were also in SOCC’s list of demands. Each organization offered their support for the others.
“I feel your presence and your energy,” said Martin Garcia, a graduate student and resident of FSH, at the New UC’s May 28 rally. He said this energy sustained him throughout the day as they stood in solidarity with SOCC’s hunger strikers.
“They are putting their bodies on the line,” Garcia said.
Taking medical precautions, many of the strikers physically prepared themselves to carry out the hunger strike. Some strikers maintained restricted diets or practiced fasting for 24 hours the Friday before the start of the protest.
Each person who fasted received emotional preparation as well, said third-year Chelsea Johnson-Long, community studies major and SOCC organizer. SOCC met many times beforehand, she said, to ensure the protesters knew exactly what they volunteered for.
“We have a great check-in buddy system to ensure that the strikers are taking care of themselves,” said SOCC member Vasquez.
Among other demands, SOCC wants the university to hire full-time directors for the American Indian Resource Center (AIRC) and Women’s Center. Vasquez said that she learned of SOCC because Dennis Tibbetts, the AIRC director, retired.
Tibbetts pioneered the establishment of relations between local tribes in the Santa Cruz area and the UC. He renamed conference centers on campus in honor of these tribes, such as the Cervantes and Velasquez rooms.
“[Tibbetts] was vital to native students,” Vasquez said. “He was vital to the program.”
Along with their various demands, the month-old coalition wants the administration to freeze budget cuts over the summer. SOCC fears that without a majority of students being present during summer, the administration will reallocate and reduce funds without student input.
“There’s a definite concern over the summer,” Johnson-Long said.
It is important to keep on protesting and engaging the administration over budget cuts, Martin Garcia said. Student organizations “need to sharpen their axes” with regards to the budget woes of next year.
“We have some big-ass trees to cut down,” he said, referring to the administration. “It doesn’t end here.”
Garcia is not the only one afraid for the future of student involvement and protest over the university’s fiscal crisis. Nora Hochman, an organizer with the Coalition of University Employees Local No. 10, said that the summer poses a problem for student protesters.
“The administration is waiting, holding their breath until we disappear over the summer,” Hochman said at the rally. “Then they can go ahead.”
If students like Johnson-Long, Garcia and Vasquez have anything to say about it, this is only the beginning.
“Our ultimate direction,” Garcia said, “is perhaps a complete [university] rehaul.”