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Monday, October 18, 2021

Column: Applying the human mic

UC applications are due tomorrow, Nov. 30. That sentence alone perhaps fails to capture the interest of The Aggie’s readership. You are, after all, already here. But this year, that deadline matters more than we realize.

Let’s take a moment to walk down memory lane. Remember what it was like to apply for college? If you didn’t black out the memory as a kind of repressed past, then you probably remember how little we knew about each of the institutions to which we sent our applications. I don’t think this is for a lack of trying — it’s difficult to understand how individual colleges differ if you’ve hardly experienced different high schools.

My perception of colleges was heavily influenced by their brand, which itself was a joint project of what current students told me, how the media stereotyped schools and what the colleges themselves did to highlight their strengths. To this end, in 2008 UC Davis meant a relaxed atmosphere, an agriculture-veterinary-viticulture giant and emerging Public Ivy, in that order.

As the deadline draws near, though, I’m afraid we’ve become the “pepper spray school.”

During the brief reprieve of Thanksgiving break, multiple family members and friends asked if I was pepper sprayed, or at the rally or in a tent on the Quad. Before I can respond, they usually begin to express their broad opinions of the Occupy movement. With all the media attention, it makes sense for their questions to take this form. While I wish folks would ask me about my course load or research, at least I can balance their perception with my interpretation of the past few weeks.

But I can’t do that for the dozens of thousands of students deciding what campus boxes to check on the UC application. UC Davis has had the fortune of rising applicant pools over the past several years. Between the 2007 and 2008 cycles, our pool of applicants increased 20.6 percent — the highest increase in the UC system — from 35,088 to 42,311 applications. It’s the breadth of our applicant pool that allows us the privilege to build a diverse body of students.

With how little high school students know about college, I’m afraid our brand as a school is being subverted by images of hostility and volatility — or worse, memes of Lt. John Pike. At this point, I don’t know how much the admissions office can do to sell our campus to prospective students. So that leaves us.

If I had an internet-sized megaphone that could reach all those cramming to finish their UC application, I would tell them about my version of the last week. I would point to the rally of 5,000-odd students, with an emphasis on the odd. When I went to the rally on Monday, I stood unintentionally next to a past coworker and a former roommate, behind a friend of an old dormmate and in front of a fellow writer at The Aggie. In every direction and at every distance I saw someone I know.

I would point to the ways in which the rally accommodated everyone. A lady on-stage translated the speeches into sign language. Where speakers were lacking, the crowd used a human mic to echo speeches into earshot. To help those at the back see, us in the front sat down on the wet grass. Decisions were made by consensus.

I would make note that many of us were there for different causes, but allied for the same reasons. Many students at the rally called for the resignation of Chancellor Katehi. A lot of students came out against the use of police force on campus. Most students were there to rally against cuts to higher education that are increasingly pricing us out of social mobility. But everyone was there in the most visceral form of community I’ve ever seen.

Shortly after the rally, and through the rest of the week, the campus still had that electricity in the air. On my Facebook newsfeed later that evening, there was a flood of status updates and comments, each expressing what I’d heard throughout the day from virtually everyone — that this is the proudest they’d ever felt to be a UC Davis student.

Color me cynical, but I don’t think this kind of pride is going to make headline news. It lacks the violence and agitation initially, and then consistently, pinned to the recent stories on our campus. And with one day to go, high school seniors aren’t looking for reasons to redeem colleges while they’re trying to cull their lists. So I hope you take from the rally the principle of the human mic, and echo your Aggie pride.

If he could do it all over again, RAJIV NARAYAN would still choose UC Davis. Let him know what you think at rrnarayan@ucdavis.edu.

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