A Rally For Justice at Students of Color Conference

Hundreds of students of color from across the University of California convened at UC Merced this past weekend for the University of California Student Association’s 26th annual Students of Color Conference.

Phuc Pham | New University

Phuc Pham | New University

Intended as a space for students of color to engage in issues pertinent to their identities, the two-day conference was hosted for the first time at the central California campus.

Carlotta Walls LaNier gave the opening keynote. LaNier was the youngest member of the Little Rock Nine, the first group of Black students to attend classes at an integrated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.

“As long as there is one among us who is deemed unequal, we are all unequal,” LaNier said.

Following the opening keynote, students gathered to protest the proposed tuition increase, set to occur at this month’s regents meeting.

“It’s time for us as UC students not only to call for a tuition freeze, but to call for a tuition rollback,” said Denea Joseph, a UCSA campus organizing director.

“Tuition hikes not only hurt the students, but the people who helped get that student to the university,” said Phil Coba, a representative of the Associated Students of UC Merced.

The remainder of the conference was comprised of an array of workshops and caucaues focused on specific issues and identities.

Among them, Student Regent Sadia Saifuddin hosted a workshop mapping the UC regents along axes of influence and how receptive they are to student concerns. In addition, she addressed students’ concerns regarding tuition.

Saifuddin asserted that the conversation needs to be redirected away from whose fault it is to how each party can work together to reach a solution that will benefit students. She called for students to put pressure on the regents to be present during lobby days in Sacramento.

“I think the UC needs to stop pushing responsibility on the state and the state needs to stop pushing responsibility on the UC,” Saifuddin said. “It’s like they’re children fighting.”

Despite the conference’s efforts to be inclusive of students’ identities and experiences, it was not met without criticism, however.

During the public comment portion of the UCSA board meeting, one presenter shared the sentiments of Black students, who shared with him that they were being rejected from even attending the conference.

“How can you have a students of color conference with Black students being denied access here?” asked Rasheed Shabazz, interim communications director of UC Berkeley’s chapter of the UC-wide Afrikan Black Coalition, who hosted a workshop focusing on organizations working to address the lack of Black students across California higher education as well as campus climate issues facing those who are attending UCs and California State Universities.

Despite there being workshops for Sikh and Middle Eastern students, Asian American students, felt a lack of representation among the available workshops. Attendees of the Asian American caucus noted that multiple workshop submissions discussing Asian American issues were rejected.

Students who identified as queer criticized the conference for not being inclusive in regards to gender identity. For example, unlike previous years, this year’s conference saw no opportunity for students to self-identify their gender. This process is usually facilitated through name badges that state a person’s preferred gender pronouns or an opening reminder not to generalize groups with masculine pronouns. Further grievances included the lack of gender neutral bathrooms, misgendering of attendees by conference organizers and lack of intersectionality between queer identities and those of color.