The construction of the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood is a familiar sight to anyone walking around the UC San Diego campus. It dominates the skyline of the entire area between John Muir College and Thurgood Marshall College, standing tall as a symbol of growth and the promising future of UCSD. For all the good it represents, however, it cannot and should not be separated from the reality of its existence. Early last summer, tragedy struck when a grid of iron rebar collapsed on a group of construction workers. Five workers were injured with one passing away later that day. At least two other workers were taken to the hospital to be treated for injuries. The deceased worker would later be identified as 32-year-old Sergio Cruz, who had recently moved to the San Diego area from Tecate in Mexico, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune. He is survived by an 11-year-old daughter.
Following the event, UCSD’s response was minimal. Despite the fact that the Living and Learning Neighborhood is the single largest construction project in the university’s history, the incident went largely ignored aside from a single day of news coverage. With no administrative response but a brief email from The Office of the Chancellor, the event was swept under the rug. A California Division of Occupational Safety and Health investigation was announced, yet no results were ever published or broadcasted. No memorial was publicized on campus. Construction continued as planned.
This response from the administration is absolutely unacceptable. Rather than send out a form email that will be ignored, the administration should name one of the buildings after Cruz. Blue collar workers and the sacrifices that they make are often ignored on campus, and UCSD has a duty to break this cycle in a visible and substantial way.
To see the divide in recognition between the privileged intellectual class that consumes the fruit of the working class’s labor and the working class itself, one must look no further than the names on the buildings around campus. The vast majority of buildings on campus are named after wealthy donors with an occasional rare sighting of a dedication to a researcher or former chancellor. From Price Center, named after retail mogul donor Sol Price, to the Keeling apartments, named for carbon dioxide researcher Charles Keeling, to Wells Fargo Hall, UCSD has consistently honored the wealthy and intellectual populations. Although great thinkers and their scientific advancements are obviously fundamental to the forwarding of society, we would be remiss to ignore the blue collar workers who facilitate and underpin the machinations that make these intellectual pursuits possible. Without the world-class labs and research facilities that are used daily on campus, it would be obviously impossible to generate the intellectual capital on which we rely. Too often, the workers responsible for these buildings are shunted off to the side while their contributions are taken for granted. As any UCSD student can attest, construction seems constant on campus, yet the workers do not receive their due share of credit for their creation.
Universities are already sites of massively unequal wealth distribution, creating and reinforcing a mentality that discourages class mobility and disenfranchises the working class. According to the New York Times, 40 percent of UCSD’s student population comes from the top 20 percent of family income. Only 11 percent come from the bottom 20 percent. This concentration of a particular population causes unawareness of the problems faced by those who were not fortunate enough to be born into a wealthy family. This problem is exacerbated by the erasure of those who make the whole system possible. In order to properly recognize both the constant efforts of these workers and the particular sacrifice by Cruz, UCSD should dedicate one of the buildings of the Living and Learning Neighborhood to Cruz.The Living and Learning Neighborhood, a $627 million project, will contain housing for 2,000 students, as well as two research towers, restaurants, retail shops, and a theater. The websites detailing the project host idealized sketches of elegant buildings that rise from the horizon against a picturesque background. It will undoubtedly serve as a site for many pithy speeches about how the area represents “the forwarding of our great society” and the structures will assuredly be prime targets for wealthy sponsors to try to claim. In fact, the Campaign for UC San Diego website has a list of the buildings with links asking visitors to “Give Now.” However, money is not the only commodity that goes into the construction of these monuments to learning. Cruz made a massive sacrifice for the betterment of the campus and in the long run, it will mean far more to the community to honor those who give their bodies and lives for the improvement of society. By recognizing and honoring Cruz, UCSD would be taking a step toward giving often forgotten blue collar workers the respect they deserve. If they do not do so, the administration would be implicitly stating that the lives and identities of blue collar workers are not as worthy of recognition as the donations from wealthy donors.
Art by Angela Liang from the UCSD Guardian Art Department.