Movement needs support, direction — not cynicism

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If various UCSC-related Facebook pages, The Santa Cruz Sentinel’s recent editorial (“UC highway protest: How not to cultivate solidarity” on March 3) and the publication’s comments section are representative of the public reaction to the six undergraduates who formed a blockade on Highway 17, then many community members and students are upset, to say the least.

Some of the responses were predictable — folks frustrated by the general disruption of the status quo and administration ready to denounce anything that jeopardizes the reputation of the university. Some of the concerns were warranted. Shutting down a highway with a reputation as one of the most dangerous in the state, especially one many commuters depend on, was a considerable safety hazard that could have been much worse. So much of the reaction, however, has been volatile, and at times, violent.

It’s true that a protest in Sacramento or at the UC offices in Oakland could give more visibility to those who make the decisions that directly affect tuition increases. But the suggestion that students demonstrated out of ignorance or naiveté is presumptuous. If the students’ goal was to bring media attention to their cause, they were successful.

Many commenters, from UCSC and the broader Santa Cruz community alike, have argued that higher education is a privilege rather than a right, even though the California Master Plan for Higher Education clearly articulates that “the two governing boards reaffirm the long established principle that state colleges and the University of California shall be tuition free to all residents of the state.”

The idea is not, as The Sentinel would have us believe, “childish,” nor was it formulated by “entitled” students. Rather, it was developed by forward-thinking citizens like Clark Kerr who believed California had a responsibility to foster excellence by guaranteeing educational access for all. The Sentinel editorial board questions “where protesters might be learning such absurdities” and its answer can be found in the original framework for one of the most successful public institutions of higher education in the country.

The irony of The Sentinel’s editorial board’s statement about protesters’ “entitlement” is that not one of the editors paid more than $2,000 for their annual tuition — six times less than the average UC tuition of $12,804. Further, the average student debt for UC graduates was $20,500 in 2012-13, according to the UC Accountability Report. In an article from The Atlantic, an analysis revealed “that 34 percent of students with just $5,000 of outstanding debt — hardly ‘high’ — default on their student loans.”

Much of the commentary following the action has been condescending and disrespectful to not only the students who were arrested, but to all students concerned with their financial health after college.

The editorial patronizes the “96 Hours of Action” movement, disputing any connection between tuition increases and police violence, without exploring any connection between the accessibility of education and the disproportionate incarceration of people of color. By putting protests, racism and police violence in quotes, the editorial minimizes the problems the students are highlighting.

The Sentinel asserts that the “best thing to come out of Tuesday’s action is that local law enforcement was able to forcefully disentangle the protesters and arrest six of them.” The Sentinel offers no productive alternatives, no constructive criticism — just another editorial peddling cynicism.

The last line of the editorial asks: “Anyone care to bet how much solidarity those folks stuck for hours in the Fishhook shutdown now feel about students’ grievances?” The disconnect of this sentiment could not be more obvious. If there was any solidarity with students and recent graduates around skyrocketing tuition rates and student debt, actions of this sort would not be necessary. The problem is that national student debt, which is at $1.2 trillion and rising, is a national crisis, and if the actions of UC regents are indicative of the future, the situation is not getting any better.

Journalism, at its best, should elevate the discourse around issues through measured and informative reporting, and, if The Santa Cruz Sentinel wants to criticize, it should be prepared to offer something more productive than snark and reactionary parental guidance.