‘Let’s Talk!’ Panel with UCOP and UCSC Admin Raises Concern

Panel discusses demilitarization of the UCs, housing affordability and transportation

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Additional reporting by H. Ann Browning

UC Santa Cruz students engaged with members of the UC administration in a panel discussion regarding topics currently dominating campus conversation for just over two hours on May 17 in the Hay Barn.

Let’s Talk!, organized by Quality Education in the UC (QEUC),  addressed topics like as housing, transportation, funding for the UC and demilitarization of UC police. QEUC, a coalition-building organization working to increase accessibility and transparency between the UC and students, formed March 2 and initially came together to organize this conversation.

Co-founder of QEUC and UCSC fourth-year Umi Santillan emphasized the importance of putting students in contact with people in higher-up positions.

“Oftentimes, students who aren’t in governing spaces don’t have access to these people,” Santillan said. “The idea was to increase accessibility for students to speak with people in power and then to really get some actionable next steps and have accountability for them.”

On the six-person panel, undergraduate student Enrique Yarce and graduate student Rebecca Orra engaged in conversation about student concerns with four members of UCSC and UC administration, including campus provost and executive Vice Chancellor (CP/EVC) Marlene Tromp and UC Office of the President Vice President of Student Affairs Robin Sullivan. About 90 audience members attended, many of whom submitted questions on note cards. These questions were then directed to the panel.

The discussion remained civil but tense, punctuated by a few bristling moments as students reacted to some contentious administrator responses. Below are highlights from the evening’s issues.

Demilitarization

Frustrated by heavy police presence and student arrests and citations during the recent AFSCME 3299 strike, students questioned administrators about the UC’s use of a militarized police force in response to strike and protest actions.

“These cops are coming on campus and they’re manhandling us, but at the same time the school supports our right to protest,” Yarce said, “so I’m a little confused about that.”

Tromp responded by reiterating Chancellor Blumenthal’s intent on keeping campus open and said she wanted to learn more about the issues raised of police brutality.

UCSC second-year and AFSCME 3299 intern Sarahí Gonzalez Ramirez presented a list of demands regarding police action on campus. Demands included demilitarization, the creation of an accountability committee independent of government, state and local police and a cultural diversity training for law enforcement. Yarce also believes campus police should also be disarmed.

UCSC vice provost for Student Success Jaye Padgett responded by recommending students attend police barbeques to become more familiar with them. This idea was met with contentious hissing.

Housing

With unaffordable housing and drastic overcrowding continuing to place students in precarious situations, attendees asked panel members to speak to the high costs and the university’s role in student housing.

Student panelists Yarce and Rebecca Orra told stories of off-campus housing insecurity rampant among their peers. Yarce addressed on-campus housing policies and the power dynamic of university as a landlord to students.

“Housing is something that is sacred, it’s something that you go to to feel safe, to feel secure,” Yarce said. “But if that is shaky, how do you get anything done as a student?”

Sue Matthews, associate vice chancellor of Colleges, Housing and Educational Services, responded by mentioning Student Housing West (SHW), the current plan to bring an additional 3,000 beds to campus by 2022. She sympathized with student situations, particularly in off-campus housing scenarios, but provided no further solutions.

Here, the conversation also turned to state funding as it pertains to both tuition and the affordability of housing, food and other basic needs.

State Funding

In line with recent talks of tuition-hikes, both students and administration turned to the topic of state funding for the UC. Many students have spent the past months lobbying state government for more money to be allocated to UCs in the next budget to alleviate tuition and housing burdens on students.

“If the UC was funded at the rate that it was funded at when UC Santa Cruz was founded, you would be paying no tuition,” said CP/EVC Marlene Tromp. “If we adjusted for inflation, you would have no tuition payment.”

Tromp explained the lack of funding is also a large reason why universities are turning to the public-private partnership (P3) model, as UCSC is with SHW.

Increased state funding is often, however, contingent on increasing enrollment numbers to meet benchmarks the state decides on, Tromp said. In response to student concern over the campus’s inability to provide resources for more students, she appeared to sympathize.

She also encouraged continued lobbying to increase state funding and improve student situations.

“If what it takes is us building a video project so that you guys don’t have to leave campus and we can bring your stories to [the state],” Tromp said, “I will make that happen.”

Although students also agreed with the need for increased state funding, many still feel the UC administration can be doing more to support them, said second-year student and Student Environmental Center member Chayla Fischer.

“It feels like empty promises […],” Fisher said.  “What we’re hoping to see eventually, is them actually stepping up and saying this is how we’re going to support you guys, this is what we can do.”

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Laretta Johnson is co-editor in chief at City on a Hill Press. Before this, she wore many hats within City on a Hill, starting as a copy editor and working as copy chief, opinions editor, city news editor and campus news editor (at different times) over the past year and a half. She sees journalism that helps people understand things, whether it’s a portion of a complicated bureaucracy or the way systems of power function within the UC, as a way to help facilitate change. Beyond the walls of the Student Media Center, Laretta can be found riding her bike around town, cooking food with her 11 housemates, journaling, going on long neighborhood walks or convincing herself one more cup of coffee isn’t a bad idea.