A brief history of Cal Day protests

Rachael Garner/File

Cal Day — an annual “open house” on campus that has historically hosted thousands of prospective students, current students and their families — has also hosted protests of UC policies and campus climate over the past two years.

Different groups have held Cal Day protests by blocking Sather Gate. In 2015, a group of protesters gathered to promote awareness about the Black Lives Matter movement and the campus climate often perceived as hostile toward Black students. Last year, students protested a lack of UC resources for undocumented students.

Boomer Vicente, a campus senior involved in last year’s protest, said protesting on Cal Day often exposes protesters to more hostility from community members. He said that last year, he noticed that newly admitted students and their parents appeared frustrated by the action, as they are not used to the kind of activism that is ingrained in UC Berkeley’s history and culture.

The 2016 protest was held in response to allegations that the University of California would not renew $5 million in grants for undocumented students to aid them in purchasing books, food and housing, among other basic needs. Vicente participated in the protest as an ally and communicated with UCPD officers present to ensure the protest ran safely.

“While (Cal Day protests) do create tension, I think this tension is necessary to make sure community members understand the way people on campus are experiencing hardship and might not feel like their voices are being heard,” Vicente said.

Vicente said because of the demonstration’s visibility, it made a statement recognized by the administration and community members. According to Vicente, undocumented students were eventually allocated funding after the protest.

Adrienne Shih/File

Adrienne Shih/File

Campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof said campus activism and protests are an essential part of UC Berkeley’s identity. Mogulof added that campus activism ebbs and flows with the political climate, and no clear trends have emerged.

“Cal Day is an amazing, unique event, and it’s an extraordinary opportunity for the university to open its doors to the public and for people to understand what (UC) Berkeley means in its entirety,” Mogulof said.  

Joshua Mao, an incoming freshman to UC Berkeley’s class of 2021, said in an email that while friends and family members cautioned him about the frequent protests at UC Berkeley, the activism is part of what piqued his interest as a unique facet of the campus culture.

“These students are putting their academic records, their valuable time, and perhaps their livelihood themselves in order to speak out against an issue near to their hearts,” Mao said in the email. “I want to be surrounded by such impassioned scholars and reside within an environment that is as open and as diverse as that of (UC Berkeley).”

Prospective freshman Leah Selcer echoed Mao’s sentiments, adding that she appreciates that UC Berkeley is a place where people are able to express their views through their activism. She said in a Facebook message that while Cal Day might not be an ideal time, it is an opportunity to show prospective students an integral part of the campus’ culture.

UCPD spokesperson Sgt. Sabrina Reich said in an email that UCPD is not aware of any protests planned for Cal Day, but the department understands that it is a possibility. Reich added that on Cal Day, it is the responsibility of UCPD to be available to answer any questions for visitors and prepare for events in coordination with the campus event staff.

A March for Science rally will take place on Sproul Plaza during Cal Day this year as part of a global movement in response to President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget cuts to scientific research. Rally participants hope to raise awareness about the pivotal role played by science in the nation’s health, safety, economy and government. Speakers at the rally will include researchers, students and activists representing a wide range of fields and perspectives.

According to Rachel Thayer, a campus doctoral candidate in evolutionary genetics, Cal Day coinciding with the global March for Science movement was part of the original motivation for adding a Berkeley rally in addition to the one already scheduled in San Francisco. Thayer said that on Cal Day, thousands of guests and faculty will be on the campus working at booths and research museums, so a large number of scientists will already be on campus.

“A big part of this is us asking the community to come support us as we venture into some difficult and challenging times,” Thayer said.

ASUC President Will Morrow also emphasized the importance of protests and social activism, as these qualities reflect the character of UC Berkeley as an institution.

“Part of what makes this campus such an enriching academic environment is the freedom for students to express themselves on campus, dating back throughout campus’s history,” Morrow said. “I think Cal Day, like any day, is a platform for students, if desired, to express themselves.”