It was raining hard, and my stomach cramped uncomfortably as I composed tweets with cold, clammy fingers. I was a general assignment reporter at The Daily Californian, new to Berkeley and new to covering protests.
“No cuts, no fees, education should be free,” protesters chanted as they pushed against security guards blocking the door. Thousands of students, protesters from across the UC, surged forward. A door shattered. Inside, hours later, the governing body of the University of California — the UC Board of Regents — approved a massive tuition hike, unlike any students had seen in at least four years.
It was the first time I saw the various moving parts of the university in action. Public universities are a world unto themselves, complete with chancellors who exploit public funds for private gain, ill-advised plans to renovate stadiums, staggering amounts of debt and stomping grounds for the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos. For a young reporter, the cast of characters is overwhelming.
Those weeks in fall 2014 were a blur of old rich influential regents, enraged crowds of protesting youth, Twitter and tear gas. Almost immediately after the tuition hike, I found myself fleeing rubber bullets and riot gear during the Black Lives Matter protests. I emerged shaken but awestruck by the lengths to which people went to fight for what they believed was right.
In 2016, the the campus again seemed to collapse around me. I was a news editor, and we had learned that the former executive assistant of the UC Berkeley School of Law dean had sued her boss and the campus for sexual harassment. Sitting on my bed while texting the other editors, we drafted a story, fact-checked with court documents and published. A day later, amid outcry over the allegations, the dean took a leave of absence.
It was the latest episode in a series of egregiously mishandled sexual harassment cases. Administrators resigned as fast as sexual violence prevention task forces popped up, all while the campus grappled with a $150 million structural deficit. By the end of my term as managing editor a semester later, the chancellor had stepped down after an uncommonly short three-year tenure.
Again, student activists rallied around survivors of sexual misconduct. They had demanded change before, and they would again. It is on college campuses such as UC Berkeley where the beginning waves of accountability around sexual violence came to the fore.
Berkeley, notorious for its history of liberal progressivism, becomes a microcosm of and flashpoint for the rest of the country. Here, national conversations on race, gender, ethnicity, identity and sexuality play out ahead of the curve, and tensions often come to a boiling point with great intensity and outside scrutiny: Protests by white supremacists and the disruption around the February 2017 Yiannopoulos event are a case in point.
Academics at Berkeley historically have battled a system that enshrines the Western canon. In 1969, community members, under the banner of the Third World Liberation Front, demanded programs on the histories of underrepresented minorities. And today still, brown faculty members continue to carve out a space for themselves in classrooms, at research conferences and in academic theory. Urdu scholars congregate to recite great epics on campus and make memes in Urdu — a decolonial act in and of itself. Change my mind.
Though the University of California claims to be built on principles of accessibility and affordability for all, this mission is rarely propelled forward by entrenched leadership, and it cannot be achieved without the people who advocate for representation in this vast, complex institution.
While students often push the boundaries of academia, it paradoxically equips them with the precise language to do so. It was at the tail end of high school that I first gained the words to explain what it felt like to be a second-generation immigrant and a Muslim woman — what it felt like to be from two places and belong to none.
And it was here at UC Berkeley where I continued to expand that vocabulary, where I met others like myself — who are simultaneously certain and confused, unapologetic and assimilated, enraged but just trying to get by. It was at The Daily Californian where I found others who had as many questions, doubts and insecurities as I do, but who helped me realize that asking questions is not a weakness but rather just a reason to keep looking for answers.
Thank you, Alex (who makes my words better), Katy and Melissa (my pseudo-parents), Andrea, Addy, Dani, Michelle, and Ivana, all women editors who made the Daily Cal home. To Karim, who, despite being a man, is one of the wisest people I know. Thx, Spandi and Maya, my meme sisters. Kate, Danica and Anisha, my first friends here. To Bianca, Shilpa, Maddy, the lady cave, couch, Daenerys and my uterus, who have been there through it all. And Iman, you’re my favorite human.
Suhauna Hussain joined the Daily Cal in fall 2014 as a news reporter. She covered the UC system as lead higher education reporter and worked as a layout designer before becoming university news editor in spring 2016 and managing editor in summer 2016. She led website and social media operations as online managing editor in fall 2016 and in fall 2017 she served as opinion editor. She is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in political economy.