Chants of “Whose university? Our university!” and “We’re fired up — we can’t take it no more!” rang through UCLA yesterday, where an estimated 500 students gathered to demonstrate against a proposed 32-percent student-fee increase. Fourteen people, including 12 students, were arrested throughout the day.
The three-day UC Board of Regents meeting, being held Nov. 17 to Nov. 19, is taking place in Covel Commons at UCLA. Today, the regents will vote on a controversial proposal to raise student fees at UC campuses by 15 percent, or $585, in the spring, and then by an additional 15 percent, or $1,344, again next fall.
The regents’ Committee on Finance voted to pass the proposal yesterday, with the only dissenting vote coming from student regent Jesse Bernal.
UC President Mark G. Yudof claims that rising operation costs and dramatically reduced state funding have necessitated the fee increase which, if approved, will be the eighth increase in eightyears. He said the increased fees will allow the university to save jobs, classes and campus services that would otherwise be cut by creating millions of dollars in new net revenue.
Almost an hour after a public comment period was supposed to have ended, the meeting was interrupted repeatedly by loud outbursts from the 50 audience members who had come to offer their input, prompting police to arrest eight people from the crowd at approximately 10 a.m.
“I’m an independent student; I don’t have parents to help support me,” UCLA sophomore Chloe Underdue said. “I work every day in the dining halls. I’m from the projects in San Francisco, and I can’t afford these fee increases. I don’t think money should stop me from getting a good education. This is something I need to be a part of. I can’t go to class today knowing I might not be able to return next quarter because I can’t afford it.”
Joining the protest were dozens of staff and facultymembers, as well as members of AFSCME Local 3299, a union representing over 20,000 UC service and patient-care workers.
Though the demonstration began without incident, the mood quickly turned sour once police officers — clad in riot gear and armed with batons and guns — formed a line around the Covel Commons, demanding that protestors move back. Officers soon erected barricades in front of the entrance to the building.
Several students were hurt after a group of protestors rushed the barricades in front of the premises at about 11:15 a.m., a UCPD officer said. The ensuing scuffles between police and protestors culminated in an additional five arrests.
According to several protesters at the scene, a bottle of liquid, possibly vinegar, was thrown at police, and officers began tasing students, striking them with batons and pointing their guns in an effort to quell the demonstration. After the crowd was dispersed, a group of angry protestors, some crying, confronted the officers.
“How can you do this?” one woman screamed. “Don’t you have kids? You’re making me lose faith in people.”
UCLA sophomore Yolanda Stephanie De Loera said that she is the first person in her family to go to college, but fears that high tuition may force her out of school.
“We went in there to protest for our rights, because we’re students and we have that voice, but they cut them off [in the middle of] their speech,” De Loera said. “And then we got tased and pepper-sprayed for doing a protest for our education. We were forced out of the deliberation room. That cannot be done. I got a gun taken out on me. People are being physically, mentally and emotionally hurt right now.”
Demonstrators then moved to the east side of the building, where student regent Jesse Bernal and student regent-designate Jesse Cheng were told they would be better heard by the regents. Several speakers urged the crowd to continue protesting, despite the Committee on Finance’s vote to approve the fee increase.
“They don’t give a shit,” UC Students Association President Victor Sanchez said. “They didn’t even look at us during public comment. What does that say? We need to reclaim our education … We’re going to head back up there now. We’re going to be back here tomorrow, tonight and make sure the student voice is heard.”
UCLA Labor Director Kent Wong spoke out against the use of weapons by UCPD police.
“University police shouldn’t be pointing guns in students’ faces,” Wong said, eliciting loud cheers from the crowd. “This is a peaceful, non-violent protest. [There has been an] unacceptable use of batons and Tasers. It is a disgrace when power structures in California are trying to balance the budgets on the backs of students and workers. A disgrace!”
Second-year graduate student and teaching assistant Mzilikazi Koné said students should be angry about being made to bear the brunt of the cuts.
“Students are paying more for less quality,” Koné said. “I don’t think [the regents] are going to change their minds, or that they’re even listening to us … [but] this protest is about us — students, faculty and staff — coming together and building a movement around this issue.”
Protestors from across the state will be gathering at an overnight on-campus “tent city” to continue protesting Thursday.
Organizers of the event, called Crisis Fest, plan to have discussions of the international student movement, dodgeball & frisbee matches, workshops, live music and a General Assembly to discuss the future of the movement.
Readers can contact Yelena Akopian at [email protected]