“Student activists seem to have concluded that university administrators do not budge except under pressure of confrontation,” UCSD’s third chancellor, psychologist William McGill once said, attempting to explain student protests.
McGill thought he had a shrewd understanding of student activism. And to some extent, perhaps that was true. But both McGill and modern-day UCSD administrators continue to make the same mistake: they fail to take students seriously.
Here at UCSD, we’ve been full of protests recently. One of them, against the Muslim ban, gathered hundreds of students in front of Geisel and in Revelle Plaza. We, the students, are angry and want things to be different.
Many students are deeply concerned about the possible effects of our new government as well as the problems that have always plagued our campus, and we’re asking: will UCSD protect students who are at risk of deportation? Will it divest from companies that support the Dakota Access Pipeline? And will the school address the racism on campus and the fact that only 2 percent of students are Black, a disproportionately small amount given California’s demographics? Will it commit to standing up for students, no matter what policies the federal government rolls out? This public university should be a home away from home for all students and we must grapple with these issues of our time to achieve that goal. Yet we don’t feel like the administration shares our concerns.
At UCSD, the administration has historically remained disengaged from student demands. Last year, a list of demands from Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanx de Aztlan (MEChA) and Migrant Rights Awareness (MiRA) was never given the dignity of an official reply. This followed an incident where xenophobic chalkings appeared all over campus, and the statement from the administration was muted at best, with no concrete action to follow. The University’s response to the recent controversy over the choice to have the Dalai Lama as commencement speaker similarly dismisses student concerns.
It’s no surprise that there’s distrust. At UC Davis in 2012, after tuition hike protests resulted in non-violent student protesters being pepper sprayed, the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) prepared a set of guidelines in order to respond effectively to civil disobedience. The report explains that civil disobedience is part of the University’s history, and details the necessity of student disobedience. Students, they say, are “participating in an important and valuable tradition in American democracy, and one that has been particularly prominent on university campuses.”
We agree – student protest is important and is a driving force for change, yet on our campus, it’s rarely acknowledged. Although the university is perfectly willing to advertise the fruits of student labor, they rarely admit where it came from. For example, while the university’s official timeline notes the opening of various resource centers, they fail to include the Compton Cookout, or the upwelling of campus activism that followed and resulted in the Raza Resource Centro and the Black Resource Center, as well as the DEI requirement. And earlier in our history, we achieved an LGBT Resource Center only because activist voices dragged bigoted actions into the light and forced the school to deal with them.
UCSD doesn’t welcome critical voices, and it especially dislikes protests. To the administration, the problem with protests is that they’re noisy and disruptive. The sole resource that the university provides on protesting at UCSD stipulates that they cannot “disrupt university functions or activities,” and suggests this only for cases when students “disagree with the content of a student-sponsored event or program.” There is no official guideline for protesting a university-sponsored event.
From the school’s perspective, it is not a problem that we as a university harbor bigotry, have constantly soaring tuition, or are plagued by any of the many issues that can play out in damaging ways on a college campus. Those issues mostly bother students. But protests garner negative press. They make the school look less appealing to prospective students or professors and harm our reputation. From the administration’s perspective, the problem is… us.
Our campus, like all institutions, is heavily invested in its public relations and its brand – university policy stipulates that the brand must be considered in every publication about the university. Further guidelines make it clear that the university doesn’t want to discuss the institution’s history at all, when avoidable, saying that they “prefer not to be too anchored to the past.” All publications “should be an exhilarating read,” the guidelines say. That hardly leaves room for admitting fault, or learning from the mistakes of the past to avoid repeating them.
“We believe that a system wide policy must clarify that ultimate responsibility for the response to civil disobedience during a demonstration—including for any response that might be taken by the campus police department—rests with the Chancellor,” reads the 2012 UCOP report.
The Chancellor here does not seem to be responsive to us. At UC Berkeley, the chancellor is in dialogue with the student body, even writing to them directly via the student newspaper. There, Chancellor Dirks opened a dialogue with students, writing to them both before and after the controversial talk. Here, the most we’ve heard from our chancellor on the subject of student concerns has been a weak statement on a recent presidential executive order which he merely co-signed.
We call on the UCSD administration, specifically Chancellor Khosla, to listen to the voices of students, and truly engage with our concerns. We ask them to take those reasons – to take us – seriously.
But we cannot assume they will act. It’s said that President Franklin D. Roosevelt once told the labor leaders in his time, “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.” Sadly, it’s likely idealistic to think that the first two parts apply to all administrators in the UC. However, the third part remains true. We, as a student body, are not being heard on issues that are important to us. Our friends and classmates are hurting, and we must peacefully raise our voices, to put the university’s reputation on the line.
Let’s make them listen. It’s their job.