UCSA students demonstrate activism

    Several University of California Student Association members took much-needed steps toward undermining the persistent myth of student apathy at the May 14 UC Board of Regents meeting. Dozens of students from throughout the UC system — including UCSD’s own Steve Klass, the UCSA chair — showed up in San Francisco for the meeting’s public comment period, spoke out against fee increases and advocated the creation of a student advisory board on the subject.

    For this alone, they would deserve much applause. In a time when 30 percent is considered an excellent turnout for a campuswide election and when most students would rather grouse about the cost of a Rubio’s Burrito Especial than coherently defend the affordability of a UC education, the UCSA members are out there bucking the trend and speaking out on our behalf. UCSA has sometimes been criticized for advocating overly political issues, including its opposition to the Classification of Race, Ethnicity, Color and National Origin initiative; it’s heartening to see it returning its efforts to something all students can support, regardless of political affiliation.

    But the students who attended last week’s Regents meeting displayed more than polite eloquence: They also showed the force of their convictions and the spirit of old-fashioned activism. When the public comment period was ended, three students had not yet gotten a chance to speak. They began to chant and protest, asking to be allowed to comment as well. Though the meeting was briefly recessed, police were called in and the public was ejected from the meeting, many Regents joined the students as they reconvened outside and heard what they had to say.

    It’s a thrilling thing, shutting a meeting down if only for a moment. It’s a thrill, too, to have officials at that meeting come join you outside to hear what you have to say after you were not allowed to say it inside.

    Don’t mistake this as an indictment of the Regents’ decision to end public comment when they did. UC spokesman Trey Davis said of the students’ actions, “”It’s not fair to everybody else to suddenly hijack a meeting that has 10 or 15 items for a single item,”” and he’s right. While public comment is an important part of Regents meetings’, there’s also actual business to attend to: Committees convene and discuss matters like budgets and educational policy, topics that directly affect students.

    Regents Chair John Moores deserves applause for recognizing the importance of the public comment to the many students who attended and extending the time allotted as long as he did — from 20 minutes to 30. To extend it beyond that time period would surely have been asking too much. But the students willingness to do exactly that — to ask too much, to go too far — is admirable.

    There are those who would call the student activists’ behavior immature and frame the incident as another example of overzealous students undermining the value of their agenda with obnoxious behavior. It is certainly true that the students disrupted the Regents meeting with their chanting, and perhaps, given that much student input had already been heard on the subject of fee increases, these students might have sat quietly and swallowed their disappointment at not having been allowed to speak. But they didn’t do that. Instead, they sent the message that they are so devoted to keeping student fees low that they were willing to appear inconsiderate, willing to be escorted out of the meeting by police and willing to inconvenience the very people they were trying to influence. This gamble shows their zeal and commitment and distinguishes them as student activists par excellence.

    That’s what great activism is, after all. It’s pushing the bounds of “”acceptable”” conduct, stretching the capacity of “”acceptable”” channels of communication, speaking a little louder than the “”acceptable”” volume. While such extreme measures should be used sparingly and never conducted without considering their full implications, they can be effective and should be applauded. The students succeeded in drawing attention to their comments at the meeting and have stirred at least one heart with some classic rabble-rousing.

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