UC Berkeley and Oakland high school students protest tuition hikes, other higher education issues

Amanda Hart/Staff

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Students from both UC Berkeley and Oakland Technical High School organized two demonstrations on campus Wednesday — one to protest proposed tuition hikes and the other to advocate admitting more Oakland public school students to UC Berkeley.

The UC Berkeley students’ demonstration — called a “funeral for public education” — was a part of the 96 Hours of Action, a series of protests throughout UC campuses against a tuition hike policy passed in November. The protesters carried a cardboard coffin representing the death of California’s public education system. They began on Sproul Plaza, walked to California Hall and then marched back to Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way, blocking traffic for a short period of time.

“We want to share a strong message with the other UCs (and) Napolitano … that we are going to fight back,” said UC Berkeley junior David Lemus, who spoke at the “funeral” demonstration.

Tanya Smith, a member of the union University Professional and Technical Employees who attended the “funeral” demonstration, said UC workers have seen resources that are offered to students diminish. She added that by placing a high price on education, the university excludes certain student groups.

Some participants of the “funeral” protest, such as UC Berkeley senior Justine Velasquez, also decried privatization of public education. Velasquez said that it can be difficult to get into and stay at UC Berkeley as a student of color and that paying back student loans is a struggle in the “real world.”

The ASUC held a town hall meeting later in the day, at which former state Assemblymember Nancy Skinner spoke. She said that education needs to be affordable and that California, which prides itself on its schools, has abandoned its commitment to education.

“We don’t want students to have to become Mark Zuckerberg to pay off their loans,” Skinner said at the event.

While the “funeral” protest occurred, Oakland Technical High School students marched in favor of higher UC Berkeley enrollment of underrepresented students at a demonstration at California Hall organized by BAMN, an activist group in favor of affirmative action. According to a flyer for the event, protesters felt that automatically granting admission to the top 10 percent of Oakland public school students would help better represent minority groups.

Halfway through the demonstrations, both groups joined together in front of California Hall in what BAMN leader Yvette Felarca called “Oakland and Berkeley together united for justice.” She said students should fight against the tuition hike while also fighting for fairer representation of minority students at UC Berkeley.

“I was expecting to come to a university representing the city surrounding it,” said UC Berkeley alumna Victoria Fernandez at the BAMN demonstration. “Getting more minorities into the system is the perfect way to start.”

Staff writer Cassie Ippaso contributed to this report.

Contact Emily Pedersen and Whitney Brymwitt at [email protected].