Berkeley voices on tuition hikes and the Ferguson, Garner and Ayotzinapa protests

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Elizabeth Klingen/Staff

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This semester, UC Berkeley students have paid their tribute to the Free Speech Movement. This was not accomplished by holding events and exhibits but by showing that students still care enough to rally, march and protest against injustice. Even as finals near, students continue to mobilize with community members around the issues that have come to define our era. The following represents various voices on two of the biggest issues our students fought against this semester: tuition hikes and police involvement in the deaths of unarmed black men.

On recent tuition hikes:

What makes UC Berkeley special is not just its academic excellence: There are other outstanding research universities in this country. Nor is it just the access we provide to low-income students: The cost of attendance at any public university is usually a fraction of what private peers charge. Rather, what makes UC Berkeley unique is that we are both accessible and academically preeminent — attributes that require resources to support financial aid, to recruit and retain the best faculty and to provide the campus community with the programs, facilities and support services it needs to thrive. While the rallying cry of “Education must be free” may have superficial appeal, it is simply impossible to do what we do for free — so the real question is: Who should pay?

Under the new plan, Californian students from families with annual incomes of less than $80,000 will, in fact, continue to have tuition and fees fully covered by financial aid. In addition, the tuition increases will not affect the vast majority of students from California from families earning less than $150,000 annually. I do not mean to suggest that low-income students do not face real challenges. They do, and we will continue to maintain our focus on the programs that support access and affordability for lower-income UC Berkeley students. That, in fact, is what the tuition increases are expressly designed to do.

— Nils Gilman, associate chancellor of UC Berkeley

Students should not let their enthusiasm and anger die over finals and winter break; it’s easy to do, and it is probably part of the reason behind the timing of this tuition plan. Over break, there are a lot of things students can do: Call your assemblymember and state senator and tell them how you feel about this tuition plan. Read up on Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin De Leon’s proposal, and call his office with your support or opposition to his plan. Read up on Senator Ricardo Lara’s proposed constitutional amendment to give the state more control. Educate your extended family, whom you’ll see over break, and talk to your friends from high school about how the inaccessibility of the UC system affects all of our communities.

We need students to be engaged. We need to continue to pressure the state and the university to do what is right for students, through whatever channels we see fit. If you want to occupy, occupy. If you want to write letters, write letters. If you want to lobby, lobby. Stay agitated, and stay vocal — if you don’t, they’ve already won.

— Caitlin Quinn, ASUC external affairs vice president

While the visibility and proximity of the UC Regents and UC president make them the frequent target of student frustration, we should look deeper at the real root of the rising unaffordability of education. Because of the substantial decrease in student activism, higher education has taken a backseat in Sacramento to the prison budget, for example, with annual state spending per student averaging $8,667, compared with $50,000 annually per inmate. With voter turnout of the 18-29 age group predicted to be the lowest since World War II, it should be no surprise elected leaders feel unobligated to be accountable to a population unlikely to vote.

If students want to return to the era of an affordable UC system, we must transform into a force to be reckoned with, maintaining an indomitable presence in Sacramento and mobilizing the near-3 million combined student population as a base to be taken seriously. Students must reject the ingrained idea that access to a quality standard of living can only be achieved by shouldering thousands of dollars in student loan debt. There was a time when the United States was home of the largest middle class in the world; that time can be actualized again, but we will have to take action to make it a reality.

— Kevin Sabo, chair of the UCSA board

In the fall of 2011, I was involved with Occupy Wall Street in New York. While Occupy is often faulted for not presenting demands or achieving tangible results, it’s hard not to recognize its success in reshaping the national conversation about inequality and connecting organizers across movements — its success in movement-building. Similarly, the Wheeler Commons and the ongoing movement for affordable education at UC Berkeley provides us an opportunity to movement-build on our campus in an authentic, visionary way — if done right.

Movement-building means prompting environmentalists to bridge the divide between mainstream narratives of sustainability and radical visions of justice. It means training undergraduate students with little organizing experience alongside off-campus organizers in direct democracy and direct action, as we saw happen at the commons. It means connecting the UC campuses, and from my participation at Wheeler, I now know student organizers who are committed to social justice on every campus.

Most importantly, it means challenging ourselves to think about intersectionality and to confront the white supremacist and patriarchal systems in our own organizing spaces — and more work needs to be done here to proclaim the commons a success. But here’s to fixing that, and to the creation of a space and community — via direct action — in which we can build our vision of a just future.

— Jake Soiffer, an organizer with Fossil Free Cal and a sophomore at UC Berkeley.

The announcement of the final UC Regents’ vote represented far more than just a yearly five percent increase in tuition for the next five years. We watched as a public university system, created for the purposes of affordability and accessibility, strayed even further from that original intent — yet another case of education being put second, or even last, by those in power.

We had protested the UC Regents’ vote, but they didn’t listen. We had held rallies, made demands and expressed our concerns, but they didn’t listen. Once again, the state had not allocated enough money to finance the UC system, and the regents had decided to place the financial burden on the students. UC tuition has continued to dramatically increase far beyond the expected rise with inflation, jumping from $719 per year in 1980 to a projected $15,564 per year in 2019.

How can we, as a state, expect our fellow citizens to have access to knowledge and research when we continue to transform education from a right into a privilege? How can we, as a nation, expect our fellow citizens to be well informed and knowledgeable when we continue to prioritize excessive prison and defense spending over public education? How can we, as a global community, expect our fellow citizens to have the ability, the knowledge and the drive to fight against injustices and corruption without making education accessible? This decision’s reach extends much further than the UC system and represents an ongoing shift toward the privatization of education around the world. But we will continue to speak out and fight against this decision, and they will listen.

— Hannah Berkman, editor in chief of Caliber Magazine and a sophomore at UC Berkeley

 

On the Ferguson, Garner and Ayotzinapa protests

I have great respect for Berkeley students, faculty, staff and alumni who are giving voice to the urgent call for racial equality and social justice and doing so in a non-violent manner. The free speech movement was born of the civil rights struggle, and it is appropriate that our campus continue to be a beacon of hope for all individuals and communities who suffer from prejudice and discrimination.

Now more than ever, we must re-double our efforts to foster a welcoming and inclusive campus that can serve as a model for the world around us. Now more than ever, we must work together to break down the walls that divide, while shoring up the ties that bind us together. Now more than ever, we must embrace our calling as an educational institution that instills our fundamental commitments and values in our teaching, our research, and our public mission.

— Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor of UC Berkeley; originally sent in an email to the campus community

Protesting to me is professing to the people around you that you have had enough. It shows your community that you are awake, engaged and enraged about the system and that they also should pay attention and notice the injustices that, at the end of the day, affect their lives, too.

The small inconveniences that you might face during this fight for justice are trivial to the systematic and institutionalized racism that operates in this country every day. If racism is not something you are thinking about, you have privilege. As a black female, I do not have the luxury of only thinking about this sometimes or whenever I feel like it; I have to engage myself constantly to try and dismantle the system that this country is founded upon — the systematic racism and police militarization that devalues my life. The “#blacklivesmatter” campaign encourages that. And let me be clear: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, John Crawford, Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin are the faces of the campaign because of the media coverage they received, but they were not the first to experience racist police brutality, and they, sadly, will not be the last.

This is not a one-time demonstration; this is a movement.

— Samya Abdela, president of the Horn of Africa Student Association and a senior at UC Berkeley

In “Revolutionary Suicide,” Huey Newton wrote, “You learn a lot about yourself when you fight.” I continue to quote his words, especially after this weekend’s march from Berkeley to Oakland.

I have experienced a level of solidarity that I have never felt before. After walking thousands of steps in the spirit of revolution, through the motion of change, with energy that I know sprouts from my blackness, I feel empowered. There are no people on earth like my people, and I have found everlasting hope after protesting with my brothers and sisters. With greater solidarity among us will come the looming anticipation of the teeth-clenching, face-burning rage from the oppressor. I could have walked many more miles that day. I could have continued chanting until my head started pounding. This is the contagious spirit of the movement that came after realizing that I have been fighting my entire life and what I am doing now is part of my natural essence.

We were born to fight. But we were also born to win. These protests are not just reactions. They are coping mechanisms. They are opportunities for fostering strength within the community. And they are statements. We. Will. Not. Stop!

— Ariel Hollie, member of the Black Student Union and staff at the Office for African American Student Development

After a successful demonstration organized by the Black Student Union where the community marched from Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way to the Alameda Courthouse, I got an opportunity to listen to the feelings of Black Student Union chair Myles Santifer, also known as Mylo Mu:

“Black students are articulating their experience through direct action because we are fed up with the blatant anti-black reality that black people experience in this wilderness of North America and on this campus. Black students at UC Berkeley have made sure to keep our voices heard. We occupied the Golden Bear Cafe and made it a safe space for black people and had our allies hold it down as well. We shut down the streets from Berkeley to Oakland because we marched on them.

Now, it is time for campus administrators to be proactive in making a better experience for black students. It is inexcusable that in the three years that I have been at this university, I have seen two black effigies hanging from a noose, outside of the context of my African American Studies courses. We peacefully protest now, but we are tired of being murdered and disrespected our entire lives. We are willing to fight until we see change because this isn’t just a cause; these are our lives that we are talking about. Black lives matter so much that we are willing to defend them. There is need right now for black voices and black empowerment. I feel empowered — empowered because there is a generation out there that is beginning to open its eyes and is ready start doing the actual work to build the future we want to build.”

— Destiny Iwuoma, a senior at UC Berkeley, and Myles Santifer, the chair of the Black Student Union