(A video from the protest will be available later today. Please check back later.)
Three hundred demonstrators gathered in Quarry Plaza yesterday. Organizers cited continuous fee hikes, lack of representation for minorities on campus and lack of transparency from the administration as the catalyst for the movement.
Chris Hables Gray, Crown lecturer and part of the American Federation of Teachers, attended the rally in support of the ongoing student struggles as an extension to the budgetary problems of the University of California.
“This university is going in the wrong direction … This is not the way it was established in the constitution,” Gray said. “Anyone who feels America is democratic, they need to go to a university. If this is democracy, we need more and more.”
Of the $500 million cut the UC faces, UCSC stands to lost $31 million in the 2011–12 fiscal year. As a result, students face another fee hike effective fall 2011.
The budget deficit has led to the suspension of American and community studies on campus.
The demand for an ethnic studies program has been highlighted in the wake of these suspensions. UCSC, unlike UC Berkeley, UC Riverside and UC San Diego, does not offer an ethnic studies major.
Literature professor Christine Hong pointed out the lack of diversity on campus and critiqued the efficacy of the ‘safe spaces’ that the university provides.
“When you set aside a floor for housing for black students as a ‘safe space,’ what message are you communicating about the whole campus?”
A petition to establish an ethnic studies program and calls for change circulated during the rally.
The petition reads: “UC Santa Cruz must adjust its institutional priorities away from bloated administrative salaries and allocate permanent funding for ethnic and critical race studies … that articulates with queer, feminist and labor studies in challenging asymmetrical power relations…”
Workers, students and professors addressed ongoing efforts to democratize education. Topics of discussion included The DREAM Act and international revolutions.
The DREAM Act, which would give conditional permanent residency to undocumented students after graduating from high school, has been an ongoing legislative proposal since 2001.
Student speaker Christian Cuadrado-Garcia said: “We need to imagine a better world, here and now.”
With this, he invited students to continue advocating for ethnic studies.
An hour and a half into the rally, over 60 student demonstrators occupied the Ethnic Resource Center (ERC). Some sat on the floor while the others crowded the hallways and the entrance to the ERC.
Some said the organization was starting to feel militant.
Student organizers said the building was chosen for the demonstration to address the small space given to ethnic resources.
“This is a space we all pay for, a space for people of color and everyone else,” said a student who wished to remain anonymous. “Resources are not enough … the ERC should not be stuck at the end of this hall.”
The ERC is located on the third floor of the Bay Tree Conference Center, and shares the floor with the Career Center.
American Indian Resource Center director Carolyn Dunn addressed the students.
“This is a designated safe space for people of color,” Dunn said. “We are in complete support of what you guys are doing [but] I’m asking everyone to respect the work of this office.”
In response to Dunn’s request, some demonstrators exited to the patio while others gathered in a conference room. After a short time the group reconvened.
Leo Ritz-Barr, a fourth-year political theory major, said that in order to work together students needed to understand everyone’s different societal role.
“Solidarity is not sympathy. It’s unity through struggle,” Ritz-Barr said. “It’s OK to feel uncomfortable as a white student … students of color are the afflicted and we’re going to have to articulate the need for ethnic studies to help make white people understand their privilege.”
Maximilian Rosa, a junior transfer student, said that the disputes among students needed to happen.
“Where this needs to go next is to use these venues and events to get people’s consensus and publicize them to make people aware of them,” Rosa said.
Demonstrators discussed how to negotiate with the administration. At around 6 p.m., dean of students Alma Sifuentes informed the group that executive vice chancellor Alison Galloway had offered to meet with students on Friday afternoon if they agreed not to occupy the building overnight. Sifuentes later informed negotiators that this offer only applied if organizers responded by 6:30 p.m.
Students decided to stay the night and at press time had occupied the Cervantes Velazquez conference room on the third floor of the Bay Tree Conference Center. The protesters have created a website and a Twitter account to keep supporters updated.