The marching feet and righteous cries of protest have long been widely regarded as a distinguishing feature of UC Berkeley and its surrounding city. But about five decades after the Free Speech Movement, the issues inciting dissent among students and residents have moved far beyond the campus’s most iconic days of demonstration.
In the past year, protests have erupted in Berkeley because of issues ranging from the national reaction to police killings of unarmed black men to the matter of public-private partnerships conducted by the campus. The way the city and campus respond to protests, too, has evolved. Most recently, an investigation into Berkeley police’s use of tear gas and other less-than-lethal weapons on demonstrators in December was launched.
See the following guide to the causes of and responses to some of the UC Berkeley-related protests in recent history.
Black Lives Matter and campus climate
Hundreds of protesters flooded Berkeley streets during several consecutive days of protests that began Dec. 6. In line with the national Black Lives Matter movement, the demonstration followed a grand jury’s decision not to indict the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri.
To control the ensuing crowds, Berkeley Police Department brought in mutual aid from surrounding cities, in addition to deploying tear gas and rubber bullets. Police also arrested more than 200 people after protesters blocked Interstate 80 the night of Dec. 8. The next day, the ASUC Student Advocate’s Office provided transportation for students who were arrested.
In the months after the citywide protests, members of the Black Student Union continued to protest in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. Their actions included demonstrating outside the Golden Bear Cafe in December and blocking Sather Gate on Cal Day. They also made 10 demands to Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, requesting more support for black students and faculty.
“Because of our protests, I think we have become hypervisible to administration on campus in general,” said Dejae Edison, a junior and the BSU’s incoming internal vice president.
UC Berkeley, meanwhile, has emphasized its work on a campuswide initiative to increase the numbers of black students, senior staff and faculty on campus. Administrators and BSU members have also met multiple times.
Sitting in as tuition rises
For the second time in about the past five years, students occupied Wheeler Hall in fall after the announcement of a tuition-hike plan.
At its November meeting, a UC Board of Regents committee approved a plan to potentially increase tuition by 5 percent annually for the next five years. The same day, students began occupying Wheeler, with more than 200 sitting in at the occupation’s peak.
Protesters’ demands included stopping tuition hikes and dropping the charges against a UC Berkeley student who was arrested at another protest at the regents meeting where the tuition hikes were passed.
The occupation marked one moment in a history of tension related to the University of California’s need for state funding. The UC tuition-increase plan contradicted a budget proposal by Gov. Jerry Brown that provided a $119.5 million increase to UC funding on the condition that tuition remain flat. The university, meanwhile, noted in its plan that an increase to UC funding beyond that amount could mitigate the proposed tuition hikes.
In May, UC President Janet Napolitano and Brown came to an agreement to keep in-state tuition flat for the next two years, although nonresident tuition could still rise up to 8 percent annually for the next five years.
Disagreement over an agreement: the Berkeley Global Campus
In October, Dirks announced a plan to turn the Richmond Bay campus — previously a planned extension of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory — into a globally focused center for education and research.
The same month, a few dozen students and workers demanded that Dirks sign a community-benefits agreement guaranteeing affordable housing and other benefits to Richmond workers. Since then, demonstrators have continued pushing the campus to sign a legally binding agreement to protect Richmond residents from the possible consequences of development.
According to the campus, it was premature earlier to sign an agreement — but the campus has said it is committed to making such an agreement.
“We’re really happy to hear that they’re going to sign a legally binding (community-benefits agreement),” said Kristian Kim, a UC Berkeley student involved in the global-campus protests. “We’re optimistic that what they sign will include what the student government here at Berkeley and the City Council at Richmond has already asked.”
From the administration’s viewpoint
UC Berkeley made changes to how it responds to campus protests after Occupy Cal in 2011, a series of large protests against tuition increases and cuts to public education. After students formed encampments on campus, police incited outcry nationwide with their use of batons on protesters.
The next year, the university was presented with a report that included recommendations regarding protest-response policies. The campus has a protest-management response team, which meets at least every three months to discuss campus protest response.
According to a 2012 memo from campus administrators, the team aims to ensure that only a fully briefed senior administrator will authorize, escalate or de-escalate police engagement.
“Many of the changes were born out of what was a very jarring experience for the entire campus,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof of UC Berkeley’s protests policies. “We can always do better.”