Over 80 students from across the University of California mobilized at the November 17 UC Regents meeting, which discussed the impacts of a potential tuition hike. At that time, students at the margins, students the UC tries to forget and silence, showed up at the Regents’ doorstep. We showed up to demand our voices be heard and our bodies be seen. The student plea for critical understanding of the cost of attendance fell on the deaf ears of the Regents. As students pleaded for our stories to be heard, the Regents brushed us aside, going as far as to demand the police forcefully remove us from the public meeting space. The regents’ priorities were made clear: they would rather see students who drove nine hours up the coast get arrested, than listen to their testimonies. Students spoke of high rates of food insecurity, housing insecurity (exacerbated by our University’s severe miscalculation of off-campus costs of attendance, which will prevent students from seeing the benefits of any increase in financial aid this tuition hike may bring) and the closure of critical services for students with disabilities. Even the one Regent, John Pérez, who was willing to listen to students after we were forcefully removed from the meeting, refused to make any concrete commitments to aid our condition.
After criminalizing our presence—namely that of the Black, Latinx and trans students who were most vocal in the crowd––why then would we attend the actual vote? Rest assured, the Regents will vote to increase tuition today. This foregone conclusion was made apparent to the students who risked their bodies, minds, and spirits disrupting business as usual on November 17. Shared governance at the UC is a fallacy; transparency is a myth. Sure, some students may temporarily occupy a seat at the table, but their vote and voice serve as nothing more than symbols of a democratic system the Regents will never allow us to truly participate in. As organizers from UC San Diego, Irvine, Riverside, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, Merced, Berkeley and Davis, we will play the fool no longer. We may be ignored by the Regents, but rest assured, we will be remembered.
We believe that education is a right and a public good. We demand tuition free higher education, not only as a commitment to accessibility, but for the recognition that tuition is a lynchpin in the privatization of higher education. In doing so, we refuse to fight for crumbs of Sacramento’s discretionary general fund between the CSU, CCC, public P-12, healthcare and other social services.
From this day forward, we refuse to organize in a vacuum. As students of the UC, we recognize that our liberation is inherently linked to the liberation of the CSU students, the CCC students, and those not afforded the opportunity to reach higher education within our state. At its heart, this is a struggle toward equity for all. As such, the students of the UC recognize that we are bound to the collective struggle with our fellow students throughout the state. Higher education costs have elevated to a rate higher than ever before. Yet, Governor Brown carelessly hemorrhages financial support for public higher education — all the while throwing increasingly more state money towards prisons.
We recognize the State’s annual investment of over $10 bill on corrections and the $8.2-10.2 bill corporate tax loophole for commercial property owners provided by Proposition 13 as a travesty. We understand that our calls for free education must be bound up in the call for a free society, with redistribution of corporate wealth and divestment from the criminal injustice system as crucial components. We identify these two changes as critical areas where we can build power and join in coalition with other Californians to better resource underserved communities in and beyond the UC. Both the fight to increase funds to public services via Prop 13 reform and the struggle against mass incarceration have been uplifted by communities of color, organized labor, immigrant communities, disabled communities and queer and trans folks.
We draw upon bell hooks as we ground our movement in the ethic of love: “A love ethic presupposes that everyone has the right to be free, to live fully and well.” Like hooks, we recognize that “the moment we choose to love we begin to move toward freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.” This letter, this movement is one of love. We the students see love as a radical framework; one which drives our values, our, actions, and our coalition building. This fight goes beyond the borders of the UC. We intend to leverage our political capital to attain the liberation of all. With love in mind, we the students commit to building coalition and acting in solidarity with members of the community, workers, and faculty. We will not be satisfied with a symbolic gesture, and we ask our community partners to hold us accountable to this promise. This letter intends to breath life into a coalition dedicated to fostering transformative change.
To all residents of the state of California, the students of the UC love you, we stand by you, and we fight for liberation with you.
Giovanni Francesco D’Ambrosio is a member of the Organizers of the University of California Students Association, including Nicolas Monteiro, Alma Paez, Erika Cruz, Alicia Garcia, Daniel Torres, Kevin Kato, Tama Semo, Brenda Gutierrez, Danielle Bermudez and Ariella Castelle. who all participated in the writing of this op-ed. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter