Student leaders meet with Napolitano, demand reform of university policies

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Ariel D. Hayat/Staff

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UC President Janet Napolitano met twice with some of her staunchest critics Tuesday in an effort to address universitywide student concerns about her appointment and to build trust and cooperation.

The meetings, held at the UC Office of the President in Oakland, were preempted by 17 UC Berkeley students protesting Napolitano’s appointment on the basis of her record on deportation of undocumented immigrants during her stint as U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security. Inside the building, Napolitano met with Student Regent Cinthia Flores, Student Regent-designate Sadia Saifuddin and 10 other UC students.

The students Napolitano met with were part of the Statewide Multicultural Student Coalition, a universitywide group of undocumented students and their supporters that formed in response to Napolitano’s appointment. The meeting was intended to address their list of demands and create an atmosphere of respect.

The demands called for reform of the university’s policies regarding undocumented immigrants, including limiting the use of university resources to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement and allowing undocumented students to work on campus.

The coalition also requested that Napolitano prohibit the use of riot police during protests. Andrea Gordillo, a UC Irvine senior and a representative of the coalition, said this request also affected the protesters demonstrating outside the meeting because both groups have similar concerns, such as a lack of diversity among UC faculty members and students.

“I know I speak for 11 million undocumented immigrants,” said protester David Douglass, a fourth-year UC Berkeley student who ran for ASUC president last year as a member of the Defend Affirmative Action Party. “We want to move forward with presenting the demands of the student movement and move forward to demand full citizenship rights.”

In response to the students’ grievances, Napolitano said in a press release that she will assign staff to explore the various issues discussed in the meeting and that she intends to take steps to expand access to financial aid, ensure sound campus police practices and help first-generation students and those of color succeed at UC schools.

Flores and Saifuddin met separately with Napolitano earlier in the day to discuss specific policy issues, such as increasing federal financial aid to students and Napolitano’s support for a program Flores initiated that would help California high school seniors apply to UC schools and aid them throughout their time at the university.

UC spokesperson Dianne Klein added that the UC administration will continue “robust financial aid policies” and expand them, noting the recently launched Promise for Education fundraising campaign as a means to that end.

“The fact that President Napolitano chose to meet with these students on her second day on the job demonstrates the importance she places on dialogue and cooperation,” Klein said. “Students spoke of their experiences and concerns, and the president listened. She did not automatically rule out any of their demands — she will consider them all.”

Both Gordillo and Flores said they are “cautiously optimistic” about the results of the most recent meeting.

“We didn’t get any concrete answers or tangible solutions, but we got a promise that she will look thoroughly into the proposals,” Gordillo said, adding that the coalition was promised a follow-up meeting in a couple of months.

Napolitano said in the press release that she will continue to work closely with the UC Board of Regents as she visits various campuses in the initial months of her presidency.

Contact Michelaina Johnson and Shannon Carroll at [email protected].