In the wake of mounting fee hikes, compulsory furloughs and straining budget cuts, students, faculty, and alumni throughout the UC system have gathered to protest the obstacles to public education. Capturing the spirit of the recent rallies, the UC Irvine comparative literature department is offering a new class this winter quarter which studies the principles of social activism.
Titled Protest and Civil Disobedience, Com. Lit. 132 (Discourse, Politics and Ideology), the class examines the nature of advocacy as demonstrated in a diverse range of historical contexts such as factory occupations in Argentina, general strikes in France in the 1960s and civil rights protests that have occurred in California, among others. In addition to professors of comparative literature, the comparative literature course also features a variety of faculty members from the film and media studies, political science, women’s studies, Chicano and Latino studies, history, and Spanish and Portuguese departments.
Along with a midterm and a final, the course grade is determined by participation in discussions and other class activities.
Dr. Rei Terada, Professor of comparative literature and director of critical theory emphasis at UCI, explained the new class emerged as an academic element in response to an undergraduate interest “in learning how to think about protest.”
“I was hoping students interested in activism would find a way to add to their activism,” Terada said. “I hope the class will make activism more multidimensional for them.”
With that in mind, the coursework is designed to encourage students to think independently and form their own opinions about critical issues by contrasting civil disobedience in various social circumstances. Far from formulaic, the class explores new perspectives rather than attempting to get a certain message across.
“It is meant to help out with the students’ thinking by talking about what kinds of problems and issues came up in other cases [of civil disobedience],” Dr. Terada said.
Moreover, the course is not intended for Humanities students alone, as John Bruning, a Sociology graduate student, pointed out. Instead, it offers something beneficial to the life of every UCI student.
“My hope is that the class will open the horizons of activism for students, to let them see what has been done and can be done here,” Bruning, who helped organize the campus protests and is largely involved in the Defend UCI Coalition, said.
“Students need to be involved, along with workers and faculty, because this is something that is affecting us and will one day affect our children, younger siblings and in some cases our parents—for example, my father is a professor and he has been furloughed,” Bruning said.
“I think the course will encourage students to realize the agency they have in their daily lives to affect change on any number of levels – at work, at school, in their family, in broader society,” Bruning said.
An excellent way to exercise that agency and get involved, ASUCI Executive Vice President Sarah Bana suggested, is for students themselves to share their stories regarding the budget crisis in the “Vent Tents” on Ring Road.
The repercussions of the budget cuts go far beyond cut classes and reduced admission. By endangering the availability of public education, the executives of the UC system are also jeopardizing the future of California as a whole.“Essentially this whole problem falls on backs of students,” Bana said. “California has prospered so much because of the UC system. We, as California citizens, need to tell state of California it’s their responsibility to provide us an education. They need to put time and effort into human capital. It is the most remarkable part of workforce.”