At the University of California Student Association (UCSA) Student Lobby Conference in Sacramento last week, a delegation of about 25 UCI students protested UCSA, presenting a list of demands centered around better supporting students of color, organizing support for student campaigns, and mandating cultural competency training for board members.
UCSA is a UC-wide organization which represents more than 240,000 students at all ten UC campuses. UCSA collects membership dues from each campus in order to advocate for UC-related issues like mental health resources, tuition affordability, and food and housing security to UC Regents and the state of California. UCSA also sponsors three yearly conferences, including the Student Lobby Conference (SLC) and Students of Color Conference.
On March 26, the second day of the Student Lobby Conference, UCI protesters silently held signs with slogans including “Meet our demands, UCSA” and “Never forget SOCC,” referring to the Students of Color Conference held at UCI in Nov. 2016. SOCC, led jointly by UCSA and the office of ASUCI External Vice President Taylor Chanes, left many students “frustrated, hurt and disunited as a result of poor organizing and communication between ASUCI and UCSA,” according to UCI alum Parshan Khosravi, who currently serves as UCSA Treasurer and was ASUCI President during the 2015-16 academic year. UCI’s protest of UCSA during the Student Lobby Conference, led also by Chanes, stemmed largely from issues surrounding SOCC, according to Khosravi.
The theme of SOCC was “anti-Blackness,” but UCSA Board Members were never made explicitly aware of this theme prior to the conference, said Khosravi. Students from all UC campuses attended the conference in hopes of addressing a number of multicultural issues, but received backlash for “taking the focus away from Black students,” and for “saying things that were problematic to Black students and to other students because of a lack of prior education on the issue of anti-Blackness.”
As a result of the initial tension, organizers called for a debriefing session for attendees before holding an action, which caused a short delay and shifted the scheduled agenda of the conference. Several presenters and speakers were inconvenienced by the change and could no longer speak to students, leading to general confusion and frustration. According to Khosravi, several students from across the state left the conference early, including UC Santa Cruz’s entire delegation.
Chanes attributes the poor organization at SOCC to a lack of funding, support and logistical oversight from UCSA, noting that the UCSA board only held one brief meeting on UCI’s campus during the SOCC planning process. However, Khosravi said that while UCSA takes Chanes’ concerns seriously and hopes to become more involved in future conference planning, SOCC’s execution became largely the responsibility of Chanes’ office when UCI agreed to host the conference.
Since SOCC, Chanes has presented a resolution to ASUCI calling for UCI to leave UCSA, which would make it the only UC campus without UCSA membership. ASUCI’s issues with UCSA cited in her Dec. 2016 resolution extend past the complications surrounding SOCC, including expensive yearly membership dues totaling about $35,000 and UCSA’s alleged dismissal of UC worker unions’ issues. Additionally, Chanes cites UCSA’s lack of communication with UCI students and leaders, lack of board members’ accessibility to students, microaggressions on the part of board members, and “lack of accountability and initiative to change things that constituent students are demanding.”
After a series of discussions with UCSA members and supporters including President Ralph Washington Jr., the resolution was tabled until the end of this academic year while UCSA attempts to address Chanes’ concerns.
Chanes also called for a fee waiver for UCI’s membership dues in February, in an effort to reduce UCI’s financial burden of membership. The request was denied by UCSA, because according to Khosravi, “other campuses work really hard to pay their dues, and UCI does have the money to pay, so it wouldn’t be fair to other schools if UCI got a waiver.”
However, Chanes noted that the recent fee waiver denial and the fallout from SOCC were not the sole cause of the protest at the Student Lobby Conference; rather, inaccessible board members, a lack of logistical support for grassroots activists, and board members ignoring UCI’s list of demands for over a month led to the silent action.
“There is no point of intentionality in meeting UCI students’ demands [among UCSA board members],” said Chanes. “When we’re paying thousands of dollars every year in membership dues, we expect our campus to be supported, our students to be supported. We first presented these demands in February, and we haven’t seen any meaningful progress in meeting them, or even any real discussion of the intention of meeting them.”
During a public comment at the conference, Chanes stated that in the wake of SOCC and other grievances between ASUCI and UCSA, her primary goal is to represent the voices of UC students and ensure that their activism efforts are supported.
“I would like to give my greatest thanks to the [UCSA] board members who have taken what happened at SOCC and used it as a driving force for change,” Chanes said. “The UC Irvine Senate has held off an official vote on a resolution that I submitted for the withdrawal of UC Irvine from UCSA, giving us the opportunity as partner organizations to try to work in coalition with each other towards our main goal, representing UC students.”