49.5 F

Davis, California

Friday, March 1, 2024

Students occupy Mrak Hall over night

An estimated 2,000 people gathered on the Quad at noon on Tuesday to strike against tuition increases, police brutality and the privatization of the UC system. The protest was the largest strike at UC Davis in recent years and will continue with a Day of Action on the Quad today at noon.

The demonstration began with speeches by faculty, followed by graduate students and undergraduates. Around 2:30 p.m., the remaining group marched around the Silo and into Mrak Hall, the university administrative building, to begin an occupation.

Police allowed protesters to remain in the building throughout the night, provided they remained non-violent.

The longest of the speeches was written by English professor Nathan Brown but spoken by professor Joshua Clover, also from the English department. The speech focused on what he called five theses. These included that tuition increases are a problem, not a solution, police brutality is an administrative tool to enforce said increases, and that the fight is against the upper administration of UC, not the state legislature.

“We are winning” was the fifth and final thesis.

In his speech, Brown said that UC is seeking to raise funds through tuition, which provides unrestricted funds that can be spent on investment in capital projects.

Speeches by undergraduate students came toward the end of the protest, with a large group of students standing together on stage while several took turns speaking.

“The issue is, money is always a fucking issue –– it’s the fucking truth of who we are,” said Yadira de la Cruz, a senior transfer student and the first of the undergraduate speakers. “The fact that we are here is very much a political statement.”

Several speakers at the protest also related the growing problems on UC campuses to greater issues facing the world today, making references to situations in Chile, Greece and Spain.

“By changing the university, we are also changing the world. And we have to change the world to change the university,” said Clover, speaking for Brown.

Even more prevalent, however, was the both implicit and explicit references to the Occupy Movement and anti-capitalist sentiments throughout the day.

In his own comments, Clover spoke of the “regime of capital and cops” and said that he was “ashamed to work on a campus with a bank.”

The connection to the Occupy Movement was made even clearer by the use of Occupy consensus techniques at Mrak Hall to discuss and deliberate, using thumbs up, down or sideways to arrive at decisions, and repeating the words of each speaker.

After arriving at the building, protesters, including some faculty, entered the stairway and filled the bottom floor. They repeated the chant “no cuts, no fees, education must be free” to the tune of a drum and a small group of dancing students.

As the speakers in Mrak emphasized the symbol of making their own decisions in the building in which decisions are made, administration employees could be seen talking and laughing through the window of a door on the first floor.

Occupiers remained in the hall past the 5 p.m. closing time, while a few police, ranging at times between three to over 15, stood by the doors. Students freely entered and exited the building.

Police were present upstairs throughout the occupation, for the most part going unnoticed.

Occupiers inside held a general assembly, making decisions through consensus on whether to allow the media into the building. After deliberation, they voted to allow media to remain inside the building.

Several news crews were there throughout the night and students streamed live footage of the strike online.

Protester Elli Pearson, a sophomore sustainable agriculture and food systems major, said that her main motivation in protesting was to act in solidarity with the Occupy Movement against corporate greed.

“I’m really glad the strike moved from the Quad to this occupation, and now it will be part of Davis’ history. I’m proud to be part of it,”  Pearson said.

In regard to students not protesting, she said everyone should get involved.

“I can’t see how anyone can not be enraged and can’t somehow find a part of how they can fit into the movement.”

Another protester, Maria Vega, a junior transfer student and anthropology and psychology double major, said her biggest concern was tuition hikes.

“I am most worried about student loans,” she said. “Especially since I want to go to graduate school. It’s a terrifying prospect.”

Although Vega is not a part of the Occupy Movement and it was her first time at a protest, she said that she felt it was time to get involved.

In addition to students and police, campus official Bob Loessberg-Zahl said he was there on behalf of the vice chancellor of student affairs to answer any questions that may come up for students.

This protest was set apart from others in the past by the faculty involvement and the fact that students were allowed to remain inside the building. This is compared to the Nov. 2009 occupation of Mrak, during which 52 people were arrested.

The UC Davis Faculty Association was one of only four UC faculty associations to endorse Tuesday’s strike. Post-doctoral lecturer Sarah Lauro said that this action was necessary for the faculty involvement that followed.

“Once it had that support, there was a momentum and it was up to the various departments to weigh in on how much support their faculty would have on striking,” she said.

Lauro, however, said she is not sure if faculty involvement should play as big a role in the future.

“It is not fair for students to have to fight on their own, but I also don’t think faculty should be in the leadership positions. We should be listening to them as much as talking to them,” she said.

The other major change, the absence of arrests, was pleasing to junior mechanical engineering major, Dominic Gutierrez. Gutierrez spent the night in Mrak doing homework, amid others who were hanging out or sleeping.

“There was never an issue with the police,” Gutierrez said. “They were upstairs and downstairs, there was a student affairs guy there the whole time and I think the lawyers guild was there, which was nice. It was really nice there was no violent reaction and they let us stay and speak.”

The next step, Gutierrez said, was to increase student involvement in the UC protest movement.

“It affects all students equally, but if you look for the most part there’s not a lot of science majors,” he said. “There are a few math or engineering, but we need to get more students in greek life and other student clubs engaged, since these issues affect everyone.”

Bob Ostertag, a professor of technocultural studies, said during his mid-day speech that this was an opportunity for students to participate in a movement to change the world.

“What an amazing time to be a student,” he said. “You all have lucked out in a lottery of life.”

MELISSA FREEMAN can be reached at campus@theaggie.org. XXX


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