UC President Janet Napolitano has often been met with protests during her visits to UC campuses. On her Wednesday visit to UC Berkeley, however, Napolitano’s protesters were met with a protest of their own.
Napolitano was invited to the campus as a judge on the James Patterson McBaine Honors Competition, a moot court competition held at the UC Berkeley School of Law in which students compete in a format modeled after the U.S. Supreme Court.
Law school students, members of the Students of Color Solidarity Coalition as well as members of BAMN, a national coalition advocating affirmative action and immigrant rights, organized a demonstration at the courtyard outside of Cafe Zeb in Berkeley. As in other demonstrations, protesters railed against Napolitano’s oversight of deportations as former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security.
Maria Sofia Corona, a third-year law student, believes Napolitano and her presence at the law school is a reminder of the suffering her previous policies have inflicted on many immigrant families throughout the country.
“Some people don’t have the luxury and privilege of having a neutral position on Napolitano,” Corona said. “The pain that they have to carry is a privilege that others can ignore.”
The protest against Napolitano was challenged by a “counterprotest” by two students: Nicolas Jaber, who is currently running as an independent candidate for external affairs vice president, and Shane Courtney, a UC Berkeley senior. Carrying banners saying, “Work with not against Napolitano” and “Yes to dialogue,” Jaber and Courtney said they want to foster an open environment in which members of the UC Berkeley community can have a diverse dialogue on varying views on Napolitano.
“These demonstrations are rooted in reasonable concerns, but mostly, I just see a lot of anger and sweeping generalizations, “ said Jaber, a second-year student studying philosophy. “If we really want to strive for progress, we talk. We don’t draw a line in the sand.”
Natalie Sanchez, however, a Students of Color Solidarity Coalition organizer and recent UC Berkeley graduate, does not foresee her organization participating in a dialogue with Jaber and Courtney. Rather, the coalition is focusing on its greater goal of pushing Napolitano to resign her position.
“People think Napolitano can change,” Sanchez said. “But she is a symbol of what is happening right now: the privatization and militarization of the UC system.”
Although this is not the first time her presence at UC Berkeley has been protested, Napolitano does not plan to stop her visits or step down from her role, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.
“This is a very important event for the law school, and the students have worked tremendously hard,” Klein said. “The protesters are raining on their parade, and that’s a shame.”