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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Editorial: Student Activism Team

A recent Public Records Act request revealed a formalized Student Activism Team (SAT), a group of UC Davis administrators in charge of monitoring campus protests.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything inherently wrong with this. An official group with the task of ensuring student safety during protests actually seems beneficial. Given the attempt to block Interstate 80 last spring, it’s understandable that the administration wants to keep a closer eye on campus action.

What is puzzling, however, is the group organizers failed to acknowledge the existence of the team, that is, until students requested documents bringing it to light. Team organizer Griselda Castro, assistant vice chancellor of Student Affairs, said that the reason members of the administration didn’t go public is because the team’s protocol and name weren’t finalized yet.

This is shady and the excuse doesn’t make it any less so. Regardless of the finalized protocol and name, the team was already present at protests all year. If they had just been open from the beginning, such a vehement reaction would have been less justified.

Then there was the problem with UC Davis police officer Joanne Zekany. Dressed in plain clothes, Zekany joined a group of protesters on the March 2 Day of Action and lied about her identity. Vice Chancellor of Administrative and Resource Management John Meyer, who is in charge of communicating with the police, called Zekany’s actions a misjudgment and regretted that it happened – as he should. Police should be adequately trained on SAT’s protocol before getting involved in protests. To Meyer’s credit, he said that it won’t happen again and that police and team members will wear nametags in the future.

Regardless of the team’s poor implementation, the public outrage is not entirely merited. It’s understandable that one’s spirit would be dampened with the knowledge that they are being monitored, but any public action is just that – public. When you paper the campus or post an event on Facebook, anybody can access it, including administrators. You can’t have an expectation of privacy in public. You can’t exclude people from action. That goes against the message of a public university.

Also, the point of a protest is to garner attention and if nobody shows up, the protest is pointless. Along the same lines, it would be more disconcerting if administrators didn’t show up because it would seem as if they don’t even care.

The situation would be different if we learned administrators were trying to infiltrate private meetings or if they were hacking into student e-mail accounts. This would be a direct violation of students’ rights to privacy and free speech and should not be tolerated. However, this invasion doesn’t seem to be happening, and we need to acknowledge the difference between private and public spaces.

It seems like a lot of these problems could have been solved easily – the administration could have trained the police, the team could have worn nametags and they could have publicized their existence. Unfortunately, their failure to do so led to student concern and outrage.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Because a task force with the objective of keeping people safe at a public educational institution in Northern California is the exact same as a secret police force with the objective of silencing all dissent in Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany are the exact same things.

  2. If they had this exact program at colleges in the USSR, East Germany, Nazi Germany, Castro’s Cuba, etc., we would call them “secret police”, “political police”, “thought police”, “anti-democratic” and a whole list of other unsavory things that are all true.

    As it stands, for the sake of democracy in our country, I hope nobody from the current Aggie Editorial Board ever gets a job in journalism. Unfortunately, it seems our media’s opportunities for modern-day Stasi apologists would fit them like a glove.

  3. Dear Editors,

    The remarks above are a propos of much of what follows; allow me to spell a few more things out. These remarks are pointed; perhaps by dint of not being a journalist, I feel less sanguine about the business.

    It’s true public meetings and public protests are, how do you say, public. We welcome the administration; we like to keep an eye on our enemy, too, if only so we know when to cover our eyes before the pepper spray arrives. The thing is, we’re open about who and what we’re working for; they’re not. *We* are against *them*. They say they attend our meetings because they are with us; we say they attend our meetings to police us. At these public meetings they, by their own admission, attend with the express purpose of relaying information about students privately to… the cops. And at protests, *they* stand behind the cops *they* privately call on *us*; we stand against *them*. In point of fact they don’t attend our meetings and protests as administrators of a public University at all, but as cops–and undercover cops, at that, masquerading as friendly administrators. The only transparency, here, is that transparency is precisely what is disallowed by the job description of administrator and cop alike; ence the legal force of a public information request required to bring these matters to light.

    If they publicly declared their purpose–as we publicly declare our purpose–to police student activity by relaying information to the cops they will later call to disable student protest with physical force and arrests, we could perhaps agree to disagree that this is “in our own best interests,” or “for our safety,” and assume our opposite sides along the barricades. As it is, they publicly hide private interests behind the rhetoric of in loco parentis, in order to police our rage against their private interests: salaries, pensions and capital projects purchased at the expense of student welfare and education. And you, dear editors, assist them, and the cops, in policing us with impunity when you credit their rhetoric in spite of their actions.

    It is quite clear what the sides are here, and which asserts public against private interest. It is no less clear whose actions publicly back their public and, for that matter, private speech; and whose actions have, publicly, been against private interests, and whose publicly against the interests of a public University. What’s not yet clear is whether the University of California will remain a public University in more than name; I fear it is already quite clear that the administration are functionally cops, policing their pensions and resumés against us. What remains to be seen is where students side, and whether public education survives its administration by private interest.

  4. Dear Aggie Editorial Team,

    Having spent a decade as a professional journalist, I am aware that you have no obligation — even in an opinion piece — to take a side or a position. However, I am concerned that your obligation to identify the issues at stake is not being met here. This editorial continues take at face value things which are, as a matter of fact, simply not the case — while ignoring contradictory facts. For example, the idea of dangerous protestors, and the corollary idea of an administration-police alliance charged with preventing harm.

    I ask you, as journalists, whether you would care to contradict this fact: the entirety of injury to people during protests, at UCD and across the UC system, has been at the hands of the police acting at the behest of the administration. No protestor has physically harmed anyone over the entire span.

    Perhaps the bromide that these teams exist to prevent harm is persuasive to you — but this can only be the case if you ignore absolute and irrefutable facts. Bearing the facts in mind, however, I would imagine a responsible journalist would be compelled to wonder if the teams might exist to serve some other purpose.

    And that, i think leads to what is finally a greater point — to the matter of what is actually at stake here, and the extent to which it has been excluded from your opinion. You suggest that the goal of protest is “to garner attention” and thus we should expect everyone to show up, including administration and their operatives. But I can’t imagine you seriously believe this. I suspect that you would concur that the goal of protest is to change the conditions of education and labor here for the better, no?

    Given that, it strikes me that the responsible question to ask is something like, “Does the administration’s collaboration with the police and their deployment of informants who remained secret until exposed by legal force, and who lied directly about their involvement, serve that basic goal: to change the conditions of education and labor here for the better? And, is that the appropriate use of resources toward that goal? Is that credibly the purpose of this elaborate operation, either on the face of it or according to some more subtle analysis?” I would be very curious to hear your thoughts on that matter, since these questions seem more germane to our shared goals — and to your journalistic obligations — than a passive acceptance of the situation as right and natural, and simply lacking quality implementation.

  5. This Team will put a crimp in the “rights” of 7th year International Relations majors to throw bicycles at police — all in the name of free speech, of course.

  6. Thanks for completely missing the point, Aggie editorial board. We have, at multiple occasions asked these individuals to state their position, their relation to the administration and the police. And they have point blank lied to our faces. It’s not simply “shady” but a fundamental characteristic of the way that the admin see and treat students. Also: breaking news, the police train the admin, not the other way around. Their relationship should be seen as absolutely complicit and endangering and hurting the bodies of students which they supposedly want to “protect.”

    The make up of this team is absolutely telling and is also a veiled threat –when people from student housing and financial aid make up the vast majority of this monitoring team, it says something about the situation of “being a student” in the current crisis of the university, it tells us what they can take from us, what they strive to protect, what is expected of us as “consumers of educational product”

  7. Seriously? This isn’t about an expectation of privacy in public – this is about the administration lying to us, treating us like criminals, and wasting university resources to do it.

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