Concerned members of the UC Irvine community came out to the flagpoles on Wednesday to protest the current state of the university in a rally entitled “Take Back UCI.” Over 75 participants gathered around a coffin marked “Death of Public Education” and “Death of Workers’ Rights,” many of them “mourning” as they dressed in all black.
The event was framed around addressing various pressing issues the UC community is currently facing, including but not limited to workers’ rights, tuition fees, the appointment of Janet Napolitano, departmental budget cuts, high student to teacher ratios, staggering pay for administration and police suppression of student activism. Undergraduate and graduate students as well as members of faculty and staff came to the rally to express concern about several issues they feel are marking the decline of the public university.
Take Back UCI opened with a time for free speech, giving way to a variety of community members to speak out on these issues. The rally continued on after speeches as protestors peacefully marched together around the Student Center and Aldrich Hall, carrying the coffin symbolizing the death of public education.
Although students wanted to enter Aldrich Hall to converse with administrators about these issues, they found that the doors were locked and blocked by the UCI Police Department.
After being forced to stay outside, demonstrators staged a mock-funeral outside Aldrich Hall entrances, equipped with flowers surrounding the coffin and chants ringing, “Whose university? Our university!”
Members from various student coalitions, as well as union members from American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFCSME 3299), UC Student-Workers Union (UAW) and the UC American Federation of Teachers (UC AFT) were present and vocal during this time. Jessica Conte, a Ph.D. candidate in East Asian Language and Literature and UAW member, started off this speak-out by addressing some of the concerns her fellow graduate students currently face at UCI.
“TA wages don’t meet any standard that would be considered livable,” Conte said. “Many of us are forced to take out loans and outside work to feed our families.”
Students supporting workers and AFCSME representatives were present to discuss the struggle and fear that service workers in the UC currently face.
A UCI service worker communicated the perspective of the workers, explaining that they are grateful for the mutual support between students and workers on campus and expressed that many workers fear that they will lose their jobs if they publically speak out against pay cuts.
Naty Rico, a second-year sociology major, took to the podium to share her experience as an undergraduate at UCI, while voicing the frustration many students currently have with regards to the system and challenged students to think critically about the state of the university.
“They don’t need to increase tuition to give us the education we deserve, they need to empty out their pockets and return the money that has been stolen from us, more importantly the dignity that’s been stolen, the fear that’s been caused and the doubt that’s been given,” Rico said. ‘I’m here because these workers are my parents, I’m here because I deserve an education. But most importantly, I’m here to take back our university. Why are you here?’”