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Monday, October 18, 2021

Fire Katehi protesters under fire for alleged disrespectful behavior against Mrak Hall staffers

AMY HOANG / AGGIE
AMY HOANG / AGGIE

Protesters respond to criticism by accusing UC Davis administrators of intimidation

Before the Fire Katehi protesters voluntarily left their sit-in of the fifth floor of Mrak Hall on Friday, April 15, the group faced backlash from several sources who claimed their protest was disruptive and intimidating to others.

Several videos which showed the protesters making insensitive comments to staff became popular, including one posted on the Sacramento Bee website which documented Provost Ralph J. Hexter calling the protestors “disrespectful” after an argument ensued over Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi’s absence at the #FireKatehi press conference on April 1.

In an email sent out from the Office of the Provost on April 8, the protesters were accused of “challeng[ing] [the university’s] restrained response to a significant ongoing disruption and violations of campus regulations and policies.”

The protesters also faced pressure to move their protest after opposers of the sit-in created a Google doc that accused the protesters of disrespectful treatment to staff members. The document gained over 100 signatures when it was spread through the End Mrak Protest Facebook page and other forms of social media.

Geography doctoral candidate Matthew Palm helped to create the Google doc and wrote an editorial publicly expressing his shift from supporting the protesters to calling off their movement.  

“I can no longer support the protest. This change in perspective began when a staffer in Mrak Hall called me one night [at] about 1 a.m. This staffer has done so much for so many students, including me. This staffer spoke of being harassed and stalked by some of the protesters,” Palm said in an article for The Davis Vanguard.

When faced with these allegations, the protesters responded by justifying their actions.

“Being disruptive is the point, that’s why we are in their office. In terms of intimidation, there is a clear power imbalance inherent to this process,” said fourth-year sociology Ph.D. candidate Emily Breuninger. “They’re coming in here every night and telling us what [Student Judicial Affairs] charges are going to be dropped against us, there’s constant surveillance, we’re being threatened with arrest and expulsion everyday that we’re in here, so I find it ironic that they are framing us as intimidating them when in fact all the cards are in their deck.”

The protesters claimed that many of the slights made against them were misconstrued or altogether fabricated.

After a scheduled meeting between Katehi and ASUCD representatives on March 30 was cancelled due to an interruption from the protesters, the group was first publicly denounced as disruptive by the Office of the Provost in a campus-wide email, which criticized the collective for their unwillingness to participate in the discussion.

Unfortunately, the protesters decided not to participate in the meeting at all. Instead, it appears their primary interest was simply to disrupt the planned conversation, as several of them in fact proudly claimed to staff outside the meeting room,” Hexter said in the email. “Campus leaders are disappointed that the protesters chose not participate in a discussion.”

Breuninger explained that the meeting was unethical and the assumption that the protesters were being unnecessarily aggressive during the protest was false.

“It was a closed meeting, nobody was allowed to bring in cell phones, the list of questions had to be provided a week before it actually happened. Everything had to be vetted and she would not talk about anything that was not on the list that was pre-approved,” Breuninger said. “All the shades were drawn, they moved the meeting location three times, there were cops outside. A dialogue is one where people are on equal footing in terms of power and that was clearly not it.”

Even though the protest has currently moved out of Mrak Hall and onto the “next phase,” as explained in a statement released by the protesters, their cause still creates a divide among students.

“I do not believe for a minute that a change in chancellor will bring about the kinds of changes that people are hoping it will,” Palm said. “The chancellor’s power is bounded by keeping the faculty happy, keeping Napolitano happy, keeping the governor happy, keeping donors happy, keeping students happy.”

By: Lindsay Floyd – campus@theaggie.org

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