More than a hundred University of California students assembled on the steps of the California Capitol in Sacramento on Monday while chanting, holding signs and pressuring legislators to make higher education a priority in a state marred by budget crises.

“The atmosphere was very energetic,” said Ronald Arruejo, a second-year cognitive science student and member of the University of California Student Association’s board of directors.

At the rally, UC students, high school students and union leaders spoke about the need for increased state funding for higher education, Arruejo said.

Speakers also addressed the importance of diversity within the UC system in light of recent events at UC San Diego, Arruejo said.

Two weeks ago, a UCSD student group planned an off-campus “Compton Cookout” theme party, which mocked Black History Month. Since then, racial tensions have intensified at the campus, with a student suspended last week for hanging a noose on a library bookshelf.

The rally and press conference were the culminating events of UCSA’s eighth annual state lobby event.

The event was intended to bring the UC budget crisis to the forefront of the state agenda.

“We held this event to demand full funding for the UC, the protection of Cal Grants and a shift in funding from prisons to higher education, with comprehensive prison reform,” said Victor Sanchez, UCSA president.

Throughout the weekend, students from across the UC system gathered in Sacramento to learn effective lobbying techniques and to discuss the issues currently plaguing the UC system, Sanchez said.

The events concluded with Monday’s march and rally at the state Capitol building.

“We have personal stories, and this day is about us putting those stories on the table,” Sanchez said.

While much of the blame for the UC budget cuts and fee hikes has been placed upon the UC Board of Regents, this event shifted some of that pressure to California state representatives.

“We realize that the UC Regents are not the only ones to blame for this problem, and they are actually less to blame than the Legislature. The main reason that we’re facing problems is because the state government isn’t providing the necessary funds,” said Christopher Santos, a third-year psychobiology student and chair of the UCSA Undergraduate Committee.

Given the rising tension among students, exemplified by last week’s violent protests at UC Berkeley, state legislators cannot ignore student complaints any longer, according to Santos.

“After the (November) protests, legislators know that they cannot put higher education on the bottom of their list of priorities, or they will be in trouble,” he said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supports the students’ rights to peacefully demonstrate and voice their opinions on these important issues, said Mike Naple, the governor’s deputy press secretary.

“Working to protect and increase academic achievement for all students has always been a priority for the governor, and in the face of a $20 billion deficit, his budget proposal fully funds education at the same levels as last year,” Naple said.

In his January budget address, Schwarzenegger proposed a $225 million increase in funding.

“It is my hope that with this funding level we can avoid any further fee increases,” Schwarzenegger said in the address.