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HomeOpinionOp-EdsUCI, you have failed us. Now, listen to our demands

UCI, you have failed us. Now, listen to our demands

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Writer’s Note: This article has been edited to reflect accuracy.

It has been 13,291 days since an Israeli truck driver collided with a car carrying Palestinian civilians. Dec. 9, 1987 is now recognized as the First Intifada.

36 years and innumerable slaughtered Palestinians later, students are calling for university divestment from the genocidal regime occupying the West Bank and Gaza. For the last two weeks, protests, hearings and demonstrations have rung out across the country, and these calls now ring loudly at UCI. Students are demanding UCI’s full divestment from Israel and the United States military’s occupation of native Palestinian land; part of the demands also calls for full financial transparency from the University of California (UC), with an emphasis on their wealth fund management.

UCI students, at the time of writing, are staging an encampment in the Physical Sciences Quad.  The UCI Police Department (UCIPD), Westminster Police Department, Irvine Police Department, Newport Beach Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Office have been dispatched to halt the progression of the encampment. Deputies briefly practiced riot formation in the face of a peaceful protest. Students are being denied water, access to restrooms and other support coming from outside the encampment. 

April 29, 2024, will go down as a day of infamy at UC Irvine — the university has failed its students, and we refuse to back down.

The history of student protests reveals how quick institutions are to eliminate students’ rights to free speech. The largest student protests ever were held in the 1960s against the Vietnam War and the 1980s against South African apartheid. The anti-Zionist protests we see today are much smaller, despite being the largest student movement so far in the 21st century. In prior movements, protests often escalated to full occupations of buildings, riots and physical combat with police.

However, despite appearing even more nonviolent and not damaging school property or harming individuals, today’s protests are facing suppression much sooner than their predecessors. At the University of Texas at Austin, police arrived on horses in riot gear despite there being no signs of violence at the protest. While charges were later dropped, 57 people were arrested. This is a clear sign that administrations are not sending in police because they’re concerned about the safety of their students — it is because they want to silence them.

It’s also happening here, at UCI.

In situations such as this, legality takes a backseat to morality. What is moral here? Does Chancellor Gillman, UCIPD and every other university department assisting in the containment of the encampment truly believe that they are helping student safety? It is clear that they are actively harming students and their right to freedom of speech and expression by conducting encampment and protest suppression. In the supposed “Year of Free Speech” at UCI, that sentiment has never appeared so dystopian. 

Now that Chancellor Gillman has locked down Aldrich Hall and refused to speak to UCI Divest lawyers, students have been effectively shut out of conversational approaches to creating change with their own administration. How many more dollars must be invested in companies that do business with the Israeli war machine? Students, as they have for nearly a century, refuse to be complacent with their universities acting against their interests. Universities are nothing without their students and the tuition and labor they receive from them. If schools refuse to serve their students, they have every right to withhold funds, labor, academics and normal university operations. 

Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan’s call for the Irvine Police Department to “stand down” is a sign that Orange County leadership knows what is just. This is a call for Chancellor Howard Gillman to stop his cowardice and follow Mayor Khan’s lead. His recent statement claiming the university will help find a place for protestors to camp out was as performative as it was tasteless. Chancellor, what do you think the purpose of encampment in a populated place such as Physical Sciences is?

Public universities are designed to be safe havens for ideas, research and social change. How much longer are we as students supposed to be complacent with the utter disrespect from the UCI administration and the UC system as a whole? Applying pressure to a publicly funded and supposedly public-serving university is a right, and the UC refuses to acknowledge that.

Students should never be complacent about genocide. We will not stand down in the face of intimidation by any entity, whether it be law enforcement or university administration.

The decision to uphold the supposed “Year of Free Speech” is in your hands, Chancellor Gillman — do right by the students who pay for your salary.

Jacob Ramos is a 2023-2024 Opinion Editor. He can be reached at jacobtr@uci.edu.  

Edited by Trista Lara, Jaheem Conley and Mohammad Samhouri.