An Open Letter about Student Protests at UCSC

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In the last week, it seems that everyone has something to say about the polarizing spate of UC Santa Cruz student protests. While there have been vociferous expressions of support and solidarity for the protests, a number of students, parents, faculty, administrators and members of the greater Santa Cruz community have expressed frustration, disappointment and what borders on vitriolic hatred and ad hominem attacks against those who took to the highways, to the streets and most recently to the campus entrances. In the face of so many instances of structural inequalities at the university, these student-activists have been taking a stand against ballooning tuition hikes, engorged salaries for the top tiers of university administration and targeted police violence. As a former UC undergraduate, and current UC graduate students, it has been troubling to see so much anger directed at these students, who are desperately fighting for their livelihoods, and so little anger focused on the root of the problem. As long-term members of the UC community, we know firsthand that these students are fighting so that all students might afford the quality public education we have been promised, fighting so that students of color, queer students, gender nonconforming students, trans* students and other marginalized and underrepresented students can obtain an education without fear of reprisal in the form of legal, verbal or physical harassment.

The palpable outrage lobbied at the students is in part because we are not used to inconvenience and discomfort in this sleepy beach town of ours. Still, common comforts and expectations of convenience must never take precedence over things like empathy and a recognition of the historical conditions that have enabled the students to view freedom of speech and freedom of protest as viable outlets of voicing concern and affecting change for a more inclusive and equitable system of education and liberation. Ironically, the history of resistance, defiance and free-thinking is one that the university’s top administrators are currently capitalizing on. For the 50th anniversary of UCSC, banners and flyers bear the university’s tagline, “UCSC: The Original Authority on Questioning Authority.” The marketing has been everywhere: banners about questioning authority and being innovative, creative and dedicated to community and education. Instead of recognizing that these students are building off of this legacy-turned-marketing-ploy, the banners flap in the wind as students routinely lay in handcuffs and face academic sanctions.

Many have not paused to ask themselves why students are taking such extreme measures and instead dismiss these acts as disrespectful or embarrassing. This sense of embarrassment is misplaced. We should be embarrassed that we have failed to keep the promise of free, quality public education. The university continues to marginalize students based on color, class, creed, gender and sexual identity. These problems have been brought to the attention of the administration on a nearly daily basis, yet administrators shrug their shoulders and turn their backs. The students blocking the highway, inconveniencing your day, have been pushed to put their bodies on the line by university and government policies. Until we listen to what they have to say, civil disobedience is their only option. We should not be ashamed of them, but ashamed of the university that fails them.

In solidarity,

Jennifer K. Teschler — microbiology and environmental toxicology Ph.D. student and Graduate Student Association co-president

SA Smythe — history of consciousness Ph.D. student with a designated emphasis in literature and feminist studies and Graduate Student Association solidarity officer