Update on the occupation of Mrak Hall, Fire Katehi protest
The end of Winter Quarter did not stop those involved in #FireKatehi from continuing the occupation in Mrak Hall throughout spring break. Since March 11, protesters have been taking turns occupying the fifth floor to pressure UC Davis Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi to resign.
Over the break, between 5 and 12 protesters held their ground in Mrak at a time, while waiting to regroup and move forward with further plans for the new quarter.
“We have been strategizing ways to continue to put pressure on [Katehi] and the university, […] trying to get her removed,” said protester and third-year physics department graduate student Connor Gorman. “The details of that — we’re still planning.”
Although #FireKatehi is the rallying cry behind the protest, occupiers agree that the protest is also a part of a larger cause regarding a shift toward for-profit education.
“This is partially about Katehi and her various scandals,” Gorman said. “There’s also the larger structural problem associated with universities […] being moved more toward a corporate model that prioritizes profit […] over students.”
According to Gorman, the recent controversy over Katehi’s acceptance of the DeVry Education Group board position simply served as a catalyst for the movement.
“[Katehi] has a history of ignoring the student body,” said protester and fourth-year psychology major Becca Mapa. “[This protest is] symbolic of what is going on in public institutions in the U.S., [which are] moving towards this for-profit model.”
The protesters’ end goal is to begin the democratization of the university structure by ensuring the termination of Katehi as chancellor.
“[We want to give] students a voice on who is going to be their chancellor [and] ensure [that] education and research [are] actually at the center, rather than generating profit,” Mapa said.
On Tuesday, March 15, Katehi made a short appearance on the fifth floor of Mrak, but the meeting — which lasted a few minutes — did not satisfy the occupiers’ needs.
“She was only here […] for three minutes and chuckled at our comments,” said protester and UC Davis alumni Anthony Beck. “It didn’t seem like she was really willing to meet with us here when we were willing to meet, but [she] wanted to set a meeting with her people, on her terms, at her place.”
Although they are ready and willing to meet with Katehi on the fifth floor of Mrak at anytime, most of the students involved dislike the idea of meeting with Katehi in this environment due to the power dynamics involved with an official meeting.
“In her own environment, [she] has more power because she’s the chancellor, and we’re just the students,” Gorman said. “[However], she can always come and talk to us right here [in Mrak Hall].”
To combat the long hours spent in Mrak over the week-long break, the protesters organized small-scale events to encourage those in Davis for break to join the occupation. Some of these events featured a potluck, game night, movie viewing and open mic night.
“Those events are really there just to keep us sane,” Gorman said. “Being cooped up all day […] can take a very physical and academic toll [on people]. In general, some people think that protestors do this for fun, but really we’re doing this because it’s an issue we feel passionate about.”
Mapa, who makes an hour-long commute from home to take her turn in the occupation, noted that the protesters have sacrificed a lot of time that could have been spent at home for break in order to help the cause.
“Personally, I have a child [at home], but I really think this [cause] is important,” Mapa said. “Not only am I putting my time in, I’m also putting in money just for gas to come out here.”
It has been over two weeks since the occupation started. Despite threats of expulsion and a far-from-relaxing spring break, the protesters ensure the occupation will continue until their demands are met.
“I don’t think we need to leave anytime,” Beck said. “If our demands are not responded to […] we will be talking about the appropriate way to escalate [the protest].”
The Fire Katehi protesters have received over 30 letters of support from various organizations within the UC Davis community, as well as reports from staff and faculty who stand in solidarity. With this serving as further motivation, they plan to continue their occupation of Mrak Hall for as long as it takes to make change happen.
“If Katehi doesn’t want to leave, neither will we,” Beck said.
Correction (9:58 a.m.): There were between 5 and 12 occupiers in Mrak Hall at a time during Spring Break, not 50 to 60 protestors as the article originally stated. The article has been edited to fix this inaccuracy.
Written by: Allyson Tsuji – firstname.lastname@example.org