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

17 COMMENTS

  1. Let’s see how long this stays up.

    I believe very few question the one main issue of the protest: Increased tuition. I will not add the other issues of racism, police brutality, FTP, Palestine, divestment, etc. that were tacked on to give more legitimacy and perhaps garner a wider audience. The audience to bring your protest to was NOT the Santa Cruz community. It is to the Regents in Oakland and to the Governor in Sacramento.

    I suppose this writers are OK with some of the effects of the 17/6 protesters that we know of at this point. Information is from reliable sources. Maybe we’ll be seeing these stories in our local media soon. I’ll keep you updated.

    Here’s a radio segment that speaks of a few of the following incidents that happened during this “inconvenience”:

    http://podcast.ethanbearman.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/KSFO20150307UCSCProtestDonLane.mp3

    A Hospice patient now lies in a coma near death because her Rx from Horsnyder’s didn’t get to her in time.

    One person lost their job.

    Several people had to skip chemotherapy.

    Two had a very long and delayed trip to ER

    One person’s cat died in her car trying to get to the vets.

    One concrete provider lost $10,000-$16,000 of material by the time he arrived at a job site.

    One unverified death by heart attack and one unverified childbirth while in the “inconvenience” of stalled traffic.

    The “protesters” screamed at children…

    We’ll know more in the coming days.

    The 17/6 students were arraigned with the felony charge dropped with them pleading not guilty. These seem to be dilettante “protesters” who weren’t coached that to stand up for your cause includes being jailed, fined to further promote it. Even Don Lane, current mayor of Santa Cruz, states that the 17/6 should be prosecuted, jailed, and fined to fullest extent of the law—-because that is the purpose of said demonstrating. Maybe the Professional Agitators from outside Santa Cruz and perhaps including a few UCSC Professors should have schooled them in such. Otherwise, they were used as pawns for someone else’s agenda.

    Here’s the petition to expel these students.

    Write emails to Dean of Students, Chancellor Blumenthal:

    https://www.change.org/p/george-blumenthal-expel-ucsc-students-who-participated-in-the-blocking-of-hwy-17-on-march-3-2015?recruiter=243758436&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=share_email_responsive

    http://chancellor.ucsc.edu/contact/index.html

    ctgolz@ucsc.edu, alma@ucsc.edu

  2. Don, I doubt your comments will stay up long because it seems, from their actions, that the UCSC students who supported these actions in the greater Santa Cruz community have little concern or regard for hearing any other opinions than their own narrow ones. They certainly have made zero effort to understand the anger flowing towards UCSC. Instead they just engage in rhetorical rationalizations.

  3. Dear Jennifer K. Teschler,

    As both a native Santa Cruzan and UCSC alum, I stand firmly in solidarity with the goals of the protestors for affordable and accessible higher education. However, to state “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.” is an extremely dismissive statement and overlooks the fact that the tactics employed jeopardized lives and the livelihood for many people. That goes far beyond mere “inconvenience” even though you chose to use that term repeatedly in your piece. If the student protestors truly want to gain voice and critical mass for this cause that truly benefits us all, they should not alienate those that would otherwise be allies. Why not take this fight to Sacramento and Jerry Brown and/or Janet Napolitano’s office in the East Bay. This would be a much more appropriate and targeted action rather than paralyzing the Santa Cruz roadways and thereby subjecting the entire locale populace to what amounts to collective punishment. You even have the cheek to state “Still, common comforts and expectations of convenience must never take precedence over things like empathy…” That could not be more out of touch. How rich and ironic. You want to speak of empathy, the students should have perhaps thought of empathy for those that would support their goals of affordable education rather than target them in their plan of action. It’s critical that these tactics be evaluated if the end goal desired is to be achieved. In evaluating the action from last week it is clear that a resounding rebuke is in order, those tactics have effectively turned a great many against them which is the net opposite of what is needed if change is to come in funding UC campuses and stopping the current and future tuition spikes. People were not just merely inconvenienced, jobs were lost, money was lost, doctors appointments missed, people in need of emergency care were trapped in ambulances, mothers with screaming children for hours on end. In stating your opinion, nowhere therein showed empathy for people that have absolutely nothing to do with the ongoing negotiations between Brown and Napolitano and your refusal to recognize that does a further disservice to the cause and us all.

    Joaquín Muñoz

  4. The ACLU gives legal guidelines that would help a cause protest for the full effect. NOTE: It does NOT include blocking traffic, access, and limiting the freedoms of others.

    http://aclu-or.org/content/your-right-protest

    Your Right to Protest

    You have a constitutionally protected right to engage in peaceful protest in “traditional public forums” such as streets, sidewalks or parks. But in some cases the government can impose restrictions on this kind of activity by requiring permits. This is constitutional as long as the permit requirements are reasonable, and treat all groups the same no matter what the focus of the rally or protest.

    The government cannot impose permit restrictions or deny a permit simply because it does not like the message of a certain speaker or group.

    Generally, you have the right to distribute literature, hold signs, collect petition signatures, and engage in other similar activities while on public sidewalks or in front of government buildings as long as you are not disrupting other people, forcing passerby to accept leaflets or causing traffic problems.

    Limitations on Speech
    The First Amendment does not protect speech that is combined with the violation of established laws such as trespassing, disobeying or interfering with a lawful order by a police officer. Also unprotected are malicious statements about public officials and obscene speech.

    Although an inflammatory speaker cannot be punished for merely arousing an audience, a speaker can be arrested for incitement if he/she advocates imminent violence or specifically provokes people to commit unlawful actions.

    Limitations on Action
    Demonstrators who engage in civil disobedience – defined as non-violent unlawful action as a form of protest – are not protected under the First Amendment. People who engage in civil disobedience should be prepared to be arrested or fined as part of their protest activity.

    If you endanger others while protesting, you can be arrested. A protest that blocks vehicular or pedestrian traffic is illegal without a permit.

    You do not have the right to block a building entrance or physically harass people. The general rule is that free speech activity cannot take place on private property, including shopping malls, without consent of the property owner. You do not have the right to remain on private property after being told to leave by the owner.

  5. I fully support the right to protests and in this case I even support the protest over tuition fees. What I don’t support is (calling it what it is) Domestic Terrorism. The willful and planned act to disrupt public services with the intent to harm is just that. Should they be expelled? Yes. Should they be in custody of Homeland Security? Absolutely

  6. The only lack of empathy here is on the part of the students who endangered and negatively affected so many people. People who agree with them on the tuition hikes. Even after reports have been made public, detailing exactly what happened to some people as a direct result of the freeway block, not a single protester has expressed a shred of remorse.
    This was nowhere close to an “inconvenience,” and for the author of this piece to frame it as such is incredibly insensitive and short sighted.

    Karin Love

  7. People of color who were blocked from going to work, supporting their families, picking up their children, getting to the doctor, do not need a bunch of rich white teenage brats from the suburbs to “educate” their poor ignorant colored selves about police brutality by forcing them to sit in traffic for hours. That blinding arrogance and dangerous stupidity is what people are angry about. These “students” have no empathy and don’t really care about anyone else. They wanted nothing more than an epic photo to post on Facebook as the 28 year old ringleader promptly did when she got out of jail.

  8. How dare you slap innocent people in the face when they weren’t responsible for your grievance in any way, and then whine that they’re not more “empathetic” to your wants. When you laugh at the idea of empathy to others and make smarmy, condescending and insulting statements to them like they only care about common comforts. F you.

  9. And, to you two, Teschler and Smythe, how DARE you say “we are not used to inconvenience and discomfort in this sleepy beach town of ours.” Speak for your own spoiled selves. Do you have any idea what I face and contend with in my life? Do you even know who I am? Do you know what my family faces and contends with? My neighbors? You SPIT IN MY FACE with such a smarmy and condescending statement like that. If you feel that you are not used to inconvenience and discomfort then speak for yourself. Don’t you dare speak for me or strangers you don’t bother to know because we’re not “intellectuals” on a high hill like you.

  10. And how dare you whine about your rights as you uncaringly trample over the rights of others. You have zero right to violate the rights of random members of the public. You have no right to forcibly “inconvenience” random citizens no matter how much attention you feel entitled to or how strongly you feel about your own opinions. If you disagree then walk your talk and post both of your addresses here. Then invite members of our community to inconvenience you in order to get your attention about their important opinions. Or are YOUR opinions the only ones that trump the rights of others?

  11. I posted this response to the Bettina Aptheker letter in today’s Sentinel. It certainly fits here also: Interesting that the OU situation occurred off-campus with the frat members going to a private event. The immediate outrage by the University’s president/administration is heartening – the fraternity booted permanently from the school, no school assistance of any form for the displaced frat brothers, and investigations and expulsions happening. There are parallels to what happened in Santa Cruz last week. The difference seems to be the total revulsion shown by the other 30,000 OU students and the school administration to what happened. Wish that was the case at UCSC. I wonder if we’ll ever hear any voices from all the UCSC students who felt the Freeway protests were stupid.

  12. Solidarity? No, you did not want solidarity at all. You wanted to lash out and make random people suffer. How do I know?

    1. The very first thing you did was you split the world into Us and Them. “Us” being the protestors. “Them” being the random ordinary people of Santa Cruz who were peacefully and innocently going about their lives.

    2. You decided that “Us” was superior to “Them.” You decided “Us” knew better than “Them.” Was more righteous compared to “Them.” You decided that “Us” should educate “Them” because “Them” was ignorant. You decided “Us” had no need to respect the rights of “Them”. You decided it was up to “Us” whether or not “Them” would be allowed to peacefully go about their lives that day.

    And you decided that “Us” had the right to punish “Them.” You decided that “Us” had the right to make “Them” suffer. You decided “Us” had the right to do what they liked to “Them” whether “Them consented or not.

    3. You claimed that you were advocating for students, for people with
    student debt, for marginalized people, and for people facing police
    brutality.

    But that was clearly a complete lie. Because the group you classified as “Them,” the group you decided to lash out on and force to suffer, was FULL of the kind of people you claimed you were advocating for. And the group you classified as “Us” WAS NOT.

    “Them” contained all races of people. “Them” contained people whose communities are brutalized by the police.” “Them” contained gay and straight people. “Them” contained students suffering under high tuitions. “Them” contained parents who are working multiple jobs and paying their life savings to try to send their children to school. “Them” contained people in their 30’s and 40s who are STILL trying to pay off their student loans. “Them” contained people working overtime for under minimum wage. “Them” contained undocumented people trying to put food on their children’s plate. “Them” contained disabled people, sick people, elderly people, people who needed medical attention.

    “Us” consisted almost entirely of white teens who have never ever supported themselves and never once faced police brutality. Several of whom hail from extremely wealthy locales.

    Yet “Us” did not see or care about the implications about a bunch of well-off whites deciding to punish “Them,” the other, and make “Them” suffer.

    So, no. You did not want solidarity.

    Solidarity was the opposite of what you wanted.

    You wanted to divide the world into Us vs. Them. And you wanted to punish Them and make Them suffer.

    And that’s exactly what you did.

    So don’t come to Them now and chastise Them for why they are not showing solidarity to you. After you treated Them as subhumans that you had the right to hurt.

    Start by showing solidarity to Them, the ones who you othered and lashed out at. You can start with an apology.

    The better thing would be to have never labeled innocent people as an Other in the first place.

    • I remain surprised that the CHP hasn’t deleted these comments as yet. FB pages like Liberate Our Education are so into free speech (as the good little brain-washed fascists they evince) that they eliminated and deleted any comments that did not support their one-dead-brain-think. Do you think anyone on campus actually read them since they have been here for over a day without any responses from UCSC students who think they just re-invented the world and are the wonders of that new world?

      Thank you, CHP. I could really (maybe) believe that you were actually receiving a college/university education if you would show any backbone in presenting the other side of the story rather than the decidedly one-sided view you’ve presented so far about the Highway 17 protest. (otherwise known as critical thinking)

  13. It’s pretty sad that people who present themselves as scholars and intellectuals that know better than us commoners, are now whining about how they shouldn’t be held responsible for their actions because they were fooled by a marketing banner they saw on campus. Waah waah! How can I be expected to exercise common sense, mature judgment, respect for others, ethics, morality, or independent thinking? There were vinyl marketing banners all over campus telling me this was okay!!