The Different Faces of UCI Student Activism

Sometimes, I say to myself, with a cynical tone, that college society is merely a simulation of the “real” and intimidating world that awaits the soon-to-be graduating seniors. From a student-controlled and democratically-elected government to college crime, UCI is a small city of 33,467 people, almost three times bigger than Canyon Lake and roughly the same size as Dana Point. Like any society, UCI is ruled by a student government, has its own free press, specialized law enforcement, clubs and a buoyant labor market.

Thus, it is inevitable that some sort of political activism exists within the boundaries of this simulation. Inasmuch, every club can be politically active, though their methods vary accordingly.

UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found in 2016 that college freshmen’s “interest in political and civic engagement” was the highest that it has been in the last 50 fifty-years. Only 8.5 percent of the freshmen students declared that they had a “very good chance of participating in student protests,” albeit a significant increase from the 5.6 percent of students in 2014.

This increase in college activism “coincided,” the research concludes, with the the “successful protests by college students [during the two-year period between 2014 and 2016].” Hence, students have realized that their voices can have a significant impact in their environment.
For instance, Ashley Duong, a staff writer for New University, wrote in her recent article “UC Regents Push Back Vote to Increase Tuition” that “[UC] student efforts and testimonies would ultimately convince the Board to delay the vote on the tuition hikes.”

Other forms of activism, whether political or civic, are carried by the numerous on-campus clubs, organizations and individual students that covet to transmit their message to the local and college communities. These messages are diverse in the political spectrum, since some of them can be classified as either conservative or liberal in their intent.

In 2016, College Republicans invited the conservative figure Milo Yiannopoulos to be a speaker on two occasions. Due to his controversial statements and political views on social justice and feminism, students protested Yiannopoulos’s presence on campus, as it was considered disruptive and negative to the community.

Last November, College Democrats invited four Democratic Congressional candidates to talk about their campaign plans and answer student questions. Though not as controversial and divisive as Yiannopoulos, the College Democrats event was similar to the aforementioned on-campus Yiannopoulos speech, since both tried to gather their members’ inquiries on the political agendas of these guests.

However, other organizations conducted their political activism in a more informal way. Such is the case of some leftists, alt-right and vegan organizations on campus, whose chalk-written messages can be spotted around campus. And last fall, there seemed to be a clash between alt-right and leftist students, which started with the phrase “It’s OK to be White” chalked around campus, prompting a reaction from leftist students who answered with “It’s not OK to be ignorant.” This skirmish continued for a couple of weeks, until both parties lost interest in the issue.

More recently, vegan organizations started to write messages on the bridge that connects UCI and UTC condemning Seaworld and ASUCI for promoting Seaworld tickets; vegans also promote their environmentally conscious eating style by writing “Go Vegan” and “Vegans are Sexy.”
On an individual level, UCI students can be activists online by protesting against injustices. By sharing news, videos, and expressing their opinions on social media, students are also engaging in digital and political activism. When someone shares the location of a protest to his or her friends, or when a person writes a social media post that a certain policy is unjust, they are engaging in political activism.

These forms of public college protests were something new to me until fairly recently. Where I come from, Colombia, public university protests usually involve homemade explosives, destruction of public and private property; clashes with the police, and road closures. Almost every month, if not every week, public colleges protested for some reason; sometimes it could be justifiable and some other times it seemed orchestrated for the sake of public disruption.

The high frequency and intensity of the protests were result of guerrilla sympathizers disguised as college students who incited and even intimidated their peers to join them in their anarchic endeavour. Therefore student protests were seen as a dull disruption, rather than a meaningful effort by the students to attract politicians’ attention to severe societal problems.

UCI students are activists in many different forms and levels; some of them are on campus, while the others are online. This is something common in every community, and since UCI is a reflection of American society, it is expected that UCI students, although more active than previous generations, protest for the same reasons as the rest of the people in the United States, in addition to the problems that might arise within the university. While most of the protests mentioned in this piece are peaceful, UCI students students should refrain to use violence at any cost. From my personal experience, I consider violent activism detestable.

Sebastian Suarez is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at ssuarez1@uci.edu.