“Whose University? Our University!” rang through UC Berkeley at the height of a protest against UC President Janet Napolitano.
Napolitano’s visit to UC Berkeley on Feb. 13, where she met with facul- ty, students and staff, marked the last stop on a tour of the UC campuses. According to students and various news outlets, she previously canceled the trip twice.
When Napolitano’s visit was confirmed, students UC-wide made plans to go to Berkeley and speak out against the UC president. Many students from UC Santa Cruz traveled to join their fellow students and workers in protest.
Holding signs and chanting, protesters marched through campus end- ing at the Blum Center, named after Richard Blum, a current UC regent. A giant sign of Napolitano’s face with the words “No 2 Napolitano — Human Rights Violator” was held as protesters marched toward the building that she was in.
Accompanied by members of the police department, protestors aired their grievances to a crowd of about 300 that stood on stairways, alongside walls and on a balcony. Passer-bys also stopped to watch and listen to the protestors.
Prior to her time as the UC presi- dent, Napolitano served as the U.S. secretary of Homeland Security, during which she oversaw the deportation of over 1 million undocumented immigrants. The protest included many people who believe Napolitano is a threat to many undocumented students and workers.
“Napolitano was a prominent fig- ure behind creating the legislations and institutions facilitating one of the largest forced movements of people in history,” said third-year UCSC student Nicholas Milano, who visited UC Berkeley to participate in the protest. “Having Napolitano as president is problematic to students and workers, especially to students and workers who are undocumented, because they cannot feel safe. I personally will not feel safe until Napolitano is gone.”
According to UC officials, the UC system enrolls approximately 900 undocumented students out of the 239,000 student population. Napolitano’s record number in deporting undocumented immigrants affects many UC students.
“She deported over 1 million immigrants — that is something that we as the immigrant community would never be able to forget,” said 2011 UC Berkeley graduate Justin Cheong. “She tore apart millions of families and friends.”
During speeches and conversations held at the protest, members of the crowd questioned the regents’ decision to appoint someone responsible for mass deportation and who also had no background in California’s public education. Students also voiced concerns that the choice to elect Napolitano was made to benefit the regents’ interests.
“It is just completely cynical for the regents to appoint someone with no educational background to hold the president position of one of the most important institutions of public higher education in the world,” said UC Berkeley fourth-year David Douglass. “It’s a sign of privatization and secularization.”
While some people came to fight the decision to appoint Napolitano as president, others came to also fight for what they want their university and their leaders to represent.
“We want to defend public education. We want to fight for the rights of immigrants. We want to integrate this university and fight for equality,” Cheong said. “That’s why we are calling for her removal and for the regents to replace her with a great educator and intellectual who can really champion democratic, public education.”
UCSC student Nicholas Milano expressed his concern that the university focuses more on those in power and less on the students it is supposed to serve.
“The university is supposed to be for us, to be educating us and making our communities better — not making us fear deportation, losing our jobs or being in debt,” Milano said. “If we want our education to be public and just, we need to do that for ourselves because the people in charge now aren’t going to do it for us. The significance of shutting down the campus and protesting is to show we are the ones running the university.”
For many, the repeated strikes throughout UC campuses demonstrate the persistence people have when fighting for what they believe is right. UCSC third-year Michaella Borges protested against Napolitano during her visit to UCSC last October in addition to attending the UC Berkeley protest. Seeing students from different schools unite over a common issue made change seem achievable, Borges said.
“It’s really exciting that we have something to come together over,” Borges said, “I hope that it will inspire more UC-wide, California-wide and worldwide action against injustice.”
Concealed behind walls and a team of security, Janet Napolitano did not come out to address the crowd during the protest.