An Ambiguous Reputation
Recently, UC Irvine has assumed a new reputation: one of a revolutionary, riled up and radical university with enough social ripples to rival that of UC Berkeley’s.
According to a Daily Pilot interview with UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng, it seems UCI is reliving its inception in the 1960s.
“In the beginning of UCI, we were a really active class,” Cheng said. “When the first-ever fee increases went around, there were 5,000 students outside of Aldrich Hall, and the Chancellor protested with them. I feel like people forget that.”
Certainly, part of UCI’s reputation as a more passive campus can be attributed to its location: tucked away in a cozy, preplanned suburb. According to a study conducted by the UCI Office of Institutional Research, “Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Santa Clara, San Bernardino, Riverside, Alameda and Ventura counties send the most undergraduates to UC Irvine.” As a result, a substantial amount of students are commuters who come and leave campus as schedules demand, contributing to the quiet image of the campus.
Since the events of last year, however, community perception of UCI has dramatically changed.
Throughout the 2009-2010 school year, UCI dominated news networks for protests, rallies, sit-ins and student arrests. Topics the demonstrations confronted include everything from the budget crisis to international conflicts.
Hundreds of UCI students marked the first day of the academic calendar last year by demonstrating against system-wide budget cuts at a midday rally. Sparked by the $77 million cut to UCI’s budget and the mounting fee hikes, the protest included teach-ins, a walkout and speakers at the flagpoles.
Five months later, UCI captured headlines once again for the arrest of 11 students alleged to have interrupted Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren in a speech, leading to the suspension of the entire Muslim Student Union.
On Feb. 24, 2010, a group of students and staff held a sit-in in the corridor leading to the Chancellor’s Office at Aldrich Hall in response to the perceived shortcomings of the administration of UCI. There, they released a list of 12 demands criticizing the budget cuts, outsourcing jobs, racial and gender tensions throughout the system, disciplinary action regarding the 11 arrested students, and lack of attention to minority studies programs. This all resulted in the arrest of 17 demonstrators.
Student activism is a vital part of campus climate, according to Kevin Huie, director of the University of California, Irvine’s Cross Cultural Center.
“Student activism, in its various forms, can have and has had a significant role in raising awareness of important issues, rallying supporters for a cause, and demonstrating resistance to injustice and inequality,” Huie said. “Without student activism on college campuses, I believe that many students could go through their college career without recognizing issues that have an impact on their own lives or blindly adhering to unjust circumstances and occurrences.”
UCI boasts 516 student organizations whose specialties run from community service and religious to recreation and politics. For instnce, the Olive Tree Initiative, a student-led organization sponsored by UCI’s Center for Citizen Peace Building and International Studies Program, has received national acclaim for its effort to educate and promote dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A student poll about activism on campus revealed that while only 37 percent of UCI students are not registered members of a student organization, 63 percent of the student body considers itself to be active in at least one student organization.
Such a role includes attending weekly meetings on a regular basis, pitching in for various group events and representing the organization at campus-wide events like Welcome Week. Of that majority, 33 percent participate in two student organizations, and 18 percent contribute to three or more.