‘We are the land’: Activists protest residential development on the Oxford Tract

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Jim Xu/Staff

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Chants in opposition to potential development on the Oxford Tract echoed through Giannini Hall at a press conference Thursday.

The press conference was organized by Defend the Oxford Tract, a coalition of students, faculty and other supporters of the preservation of the Oxford Tract land for research and teaching purposes. Attendees repeatedly exclaimed, “We are the land, the land is us!” while entering the hall before the start of the event.

Event organizers and Student Organic Garden Association, or SOGA, members read a manifesto about the importance of urban agriculture and a letter encouraging College of Natural Resources Dean J. Keith Gilless to oppose housing development on the Oxford Tract.

The Oxford Tract, located on campus, is currently home to greenhouses and research facilities. In January, a university housing task force cited the land as a potential location for the development of student housing — a prospect that press conference attendees congregated to audibly protest.

“Leaders in our community should stand up and vocally oppose this development,” said doctoral candidate Joshua Arnold, who has been conducting research on the Oxford Tract for five years. “Lack of leadership has opened up a vacuum, and students are the ones who have been putting time and effort into saving this space.”

Campus senior and SOGA member Grace Treffinger said that while working on the Oxford Tract Planning Committee last summer, she contributed to the completion of a SOGA report that outlines statistics related to the Oxford Tract, including the number of students it serves and the educational opportunities it provides. The failure of the university to follow through with its promise to release the report in August was “a small piece of this puzzle” that inspired Defend the Oxford Tract to hold the press conference, according to Treffinger.

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof confirmed in an email that the university housing task force has identified the Oxford Tract as a potential location for student housing, but said no decision has been made regarding development.

“While the site has the greatest capacity (for student housing) compared to other viable options, it is also the location of important research and experiential learning … that would need to be relocated,” Mogulof said in an email. “The campus has been clear that it understands the importance of the facilities and activities on the Oxford Tract.”

However, Peggy Lemaux, the faculty member in charge of the Oxford Tract, said the relocation of the facilities would be inconvenient for both students and researchers. Lemaux added that many faculty members are dependent on the Oxford Tract for various purposes, including grant writing.

Dasha Pechurina, another campus senior and SOGA member, said relocating agricultural facilities to a remote, off-campus location would detract from potential research and make the campus less attractive to new faculty members.

“It’s time for us to really mobilize, and this is only one of the series of efforts that will be coming,” Pechurina said.

Contact Danielle Kaye at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @danielledkaye.