A Memory For Our Institution

The various causes to which Mariscal dedicates himself — battling the UC budget cuts, promoting campus diversity and countering militarism in high school, to name a few — have roots in a personal experience.

Although the university’s financial quagmire is a recent flare-up, Mariscal has always been concerned with the future of public higher education in the Golden State. Raised in Long Beach, the literature professor and first-generation college graduate is himself a product of the state’s three-tiered system: He transferred from a California community college to Cal State Long Beach, and eventually received a Ph.D in Spanish literature and culture from UC Irvine.

After a couple out-of-state teaching stints, Mariscal joined UCSD’s literature department in 1986, where he currently teaches courses in Spanish and Chicano literature, as well as installments of Marshall College’s core Dimensions of Culture writing program.

With 23 years of UC teaching under his belt, Mariscal has emerged as a key fixture in campuswide events and discussions about the effects of the UC budget cuts.

“The budget crisis is a tragedy,” said Mariscal. “It’s the result of 30 years of poor government, and it’s hard to reverse. The university is making excuses and trying to get out by putting the cost on students — but the leadership should be finding other solutions.”

He said that the Nov. 17 protests at UCLA against the regents’ student-fee hikes were a symbol of the UC students’ passion for their education — a cause to which he promised to contribute.

“I’ll continue working against budget cuts, and I’ll be watchful of changes in admissions,” said Mariscal. “My ultimate goal is for the campus to change to represent the diversity of California as California changes.”

This kind of diversity has long been a focus for Mariscal.

“For 20 years, I’ve tried to make the campus more democratic,” he said.

In 1995, Mariscal was chair of the board that created the Cross-Cultural Center, a space built to foster diversity and tolerance on campus. And, as a current faculty equity advisor for the Division of Arts and Humanities, he still provides consultation within the teaching staff on new possibilities to diversify UCSD’s student body.

Mariscal cited low admission rates (relative to other ethnic groups) as the reason the Latino community is not well represented by UCSD. Because of this, he has focused his efforts on educational issues (such as high tuition fees and high school military recruiting) that keep students from pursuing higher education.

Currently, Mariscal is active in Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana y Chicano de Aztlan — a student organization which fights for equal access in higher education.

Mariscal’s most recent M.E.Ch.A. project was a new hanging mural at Peterson Hall: The professor approached prominent Chicano artist Mario Torero to paint the piece. Originally slated for removal at the end of Fall Quarter, the mural has received enough petition signatures to ensure it a home in Marshall College — at least until June 2012. While M.E.Ch.A students collected signatures, Mariscal sought the approval of administrators.

On the academic side of things, Mariscal said his courses often focus on the history of social movements in the United States, which he hopes students will connect to their own experiences — something he certainly does in his own life.

Like many members of his generation, Mariscal began his political streak in the Vietnam era, when he was drafted into the war.

“After I came back from the Vietnam War, I began protesting against it,” said Mariscal. “It got me interested in the history of militarism and all the things that aren’t said about it.”

Today, Mariscal works closely with Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities: a counter-recruitment group that speaks to high-school students about alternatives to enlisting in the military in lieu of (or in order to pay for) a college education.

“I feel like students are under assault by recruiters, and a lot of things are misrepresented,” said Mariscal. “Students aren’t getting enough information. I want [them] to know the entire story before they’re recruited. They don’t receive enough information, and they’re not told the entire story.”

Mariscal said his decision to be an activist was a natural one.

“It was the logical conclusion of my own life, and I’ve been surrounded by people on campus who keep me engaged,” he said. “As a professor, it’s easy to slip into research, and former students and friends have kept me active on the social-justice front.”

Readers can contact Angela Chen at [email protected].

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