Students, activists protest UC Berkeley cancel for nonpayment policy

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Jihoon Park/File

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More than 100 students and activists gathered on Sproul Plaza on Friday to protest the campus’s new cancel for nonpayment policy, alleging that the initiative disproportionately targets marginalized communities.

After negotiations with the ASUC, the campus announced Tuesday that the controversial deadline for the policy would be extended by 11 days, to Aug. 30. The original policy — introduced in a campuswide email in July — shifted the deadline for students to make their first tuition payments to 26 days earlier than last year.

The announcement sparked widespread student criticism and, according to ASUC senator-elect Rosa Kwak, spurred fear among many low-income students.

With many students insecure about their ability to pay by the deadline, some waited more than seven hours at the financial aid office after the announcement.

Students are still encouraged to pay 20 percent of their tuition — $1,351.65 for in-state students and $4,019.85 for out-of-state students — by the original Aug. 19 deadline but will not be dropped from their classes if they pay before Aug. 30.

Student activists at the protest, however, expressed that they did not feel the extension of the deadline adequately addressed student concerns related to the policy.

“Even though there was an extension on the policy, the whole … intent behind the policy is still making students really frustrated,” Kwak said.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Harry Le Grande stated in the email announcing the policy that it was intended to reduce the number of students who enroll in classes and later do not attend the semester to maximize the availability of spaces. According to Kwak, the administration estimates there are between 200 and 600 such students per semester.

Student activists Hector Rico and Rolando Gutierrez, however, alleged that the implementation of the initiative was a concentrated effort to further marginalize students of color. They expressed that they wanted the campus to be held accountable for policies that disproportionately harm some students.

“(This policy was designed) to weed out those with the strongest incentive to speak out,” Gutierrez said.

The campus could not comment on these allegations as of press time.

The demonstration included a diverse group of speakers — including students of color, homeless students, international students, transfer students, transgender students and out-of-state students — who enumerated the unique challenges the policy has presented for underprivileged communities.

“Some of our student-parents have had to choose between buying groceries for their kids, paying rent or paying this 20 percent,” said student protester Valeska Castaneda at the demonstration.

After marching across campus, activists presented a list of demands in front of California Hall, which included calls for an investigation into the design and implementation of the policy and student oversight over future administrative decisions.

Additionally, the protesters demanded an increase in Cal Central and financial aid staff, better education for financial aid workers in helping students with extenuating circumstances and more transparent timelines for financial aid disbursement.

“We want to be considered students, not customers,” Rico said.

Jessica Lynn is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @jessicailynn.