Saturday, March 25

Faces of protest: Bruin activists share stories on Occupy UCLA


(From left) Anthony Trochez, graduate student in education, Laura Sermeño, first-year Chicana and Chicano studies and environmental studies student, and world arts and cultures graduate student Mathew Sandoval gathered in Bruin Plaza on Nov. 21 during a late-night rally held by Occupy UCLA.

(From left) Anthony Trochez, graduate student in education, Laura Sermeño, first-year Chicana and Chicano studies and environmental studies student, and world arts and cultures graduate student Mathew Sandoval gathered in Bruin Plaza on Nov. 21 during a late-night rally held by Occupy UCLA.

Lexy Atmore


Isaac Arjonilla

Protesters march on Bruin Walk during Occupy UCLA’s “Occuparty” rally on Nov. 21.

Sidhaant Shah

Protesters gathered in Bruin Plaza on Monday night and pitched about 20 tents ““ including two on top of the box housing the “hibernating” Bruin statue.

Occupy UCLA has been a visible presence on the UCLA campus the past week, with its members pitching tents, marching and rallying as part of system-wide protests against tuition hikes and budget cuts to the University of California. The Daily Bruin talked to three of the student protesters about their reasons for joining the Occupy movement. Here are their stories.

Laura Sermeño

Laura Sermeño spent the night of Nov. 9 in jail and was released in time for class the following morning.

Sermeño, a first-year environmental studies and Chicana and Chicano studies student, was arrested at a rally protesting the lack of funding for public education in Westwood Village organized by the ReFund California Coalition that shut down Wilshire Boulevard.

After spending the night in jail, Sermeño said it was an experience she hopes not to repeat.

Occupy UCLA, however, is not Sermeño’s first experience with protests ““ in her hometown of El Monte she protested for pro-environmental causes.

Sermeño, who is part of the Occupy UCLA movement, said although she can currently afford her education, she protests on behalf of those who can’t.

“I want to be here for those who don’t have a chance to speak,” she said.

Many students at UCLA are too busy with homework or jobs to be able to protest, she added.

Though she has spent nights awake protesting and time during the day attending Occupy UCLA general assemblies, Sermeño said she will try to balance her activism with her schoolwork as long as she can.

Monday night, Sermeño sat with her MacBook on her lap creating a playlist for “Occuparty,” the movement’s festive encampment and protest in Bruin Plaza.

The goal of the event was to attract more students to Occupy UCLA, especially younger undergraduates, she said.

The issues the movement seeks to address apply to all students, she added.

Convincing the UCLA community that education should be more affordable is not the main challenge for the movement, Sermeño said. The main challenge is encouraging others to participate between school and work.

The risk of arrest turns many people away from the protests, she said. Her experiences have helped her understand why some would not risk confrontation with the police, she said.

But Sermeño said she believes she has too much at stake to sit out.

Sermeño’s family has expressed concern for her safety, she said. She added that although they don’t disapprove of her activism, they asked that she not put herself in any dangerous positions.

While she sits out in the cold by the Bruin statue now, Sermeño said she one day hopes to enact change from a different venue ““ in an office as an environmental lawyer.

Sermeño said she hopes her arrest record does not affect future career opportunities.

She laughed as another protester greeted her, “Hey, you’re that girl from jail!”

But she said her actions were not intended to attract this kind of attention ““ her intention is to enact change.

Anthony Trochez

Anthony Trochez finally fell asleep at 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 18.

He was woken up an hour later, with news that university police were on their way.

Trochez, a graduate student in education, had been camping out in Wilson Plaza with other members of Occupy UCLA.

He remained at the campground despite police orders to disperse peacefully. He was arrested along with 13 other protesters.

“Leaving the camp wasn’t an option,” Trochez said. “I believe I had a right to dissent.”

The Nov. 17 campout and his arrest early the next morning were Trochez’s first experiences with the Occupy movement.

When Trochez was released around 11 a.m. on Nov. 18, he was greeted by his fellow “occupistas” with food and embraces at Wilson Plaza.

Trochez said he felt the Nov. 17 protest would not be the last Occupy event on campus, despite the arrests. He joined Occupy UCLA for a second campout on Nov. 21.

Trochez said he strongly identifies with the college-based Occupy movements’ message of equitable and accessible education for all.

“Do I pay for tuition, or do I pay for rent? Do I pay for books or do I pay for food? These are questions that shouldn’t come between … students and our education,” he said.

Between being a full-time student and part-time community service representative at the Pasadena Public Health Department, Trochez has little time to spare. But the Occupy Movement has become the new focus of his life, he said.

Trochez said he has attended public schools his entire life. He grew up in Pasadena and studied Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate.

He is now studying higher education and organizational change at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. But the value of education must be altered and redefined, Trochez said.

“Right now, education is just like any other service, just something to be traded and sold,” he said.

Trochez hopes to become a professor one day.

As a black Latino, Trochez said it was a challenge going to school and not finding others who looked like him. Confusion over his cultural identity often stopped him from making a genuine connection with others, he said.

With Occupy protestors, however, Trochez said he feels he belongs. It is a new family to him, he said.

“I’ve never been part of something so big before,” he said. “As a single person, I can only do so much, but collectively, we can grow and uplift people who’ve been marginalized.”

Mathew Sandoval

Mathew Sandoval was the oldest of the protesters arrested Nov. 18 at the Occupy UCLA encampment in Wilson Plaza.

The 32-year-old graduate student and teaching assistant in the UCLA department of world arts and cultures said he felt a responsibility to support fellow students facing arrest.

“As an educator, it is not a matter of passing along content to students,” Sandoval said. “It is a matter of contextualizing the kind of education system (students) are embroiled in.”

Sandoval’s role as a teaching assistant motivates his involvement with the movement. He said he sees the university losing qualified students who cannot afford tuition and has noticed a difference in the amount of time he can dedicate to his students because of increasing class size.

“I am responsible for standing up for my students, not just in the classroom,” he added.

Sandoval is familiar with arrests for political activism. Earlier this month, he was arrested at the intersection of Wilshire and Westwood boulevards during a protest organized by the ReFund California Coalition.

He said he thinks it is important for him to support and help acquaint new students to political activism, regardless of the numerous court dates he has accrued so far this year.

“The students are willing to put (their) bodies and (their) records on the line by being arrested for the first time for something (they) actually believe in,” Sandoval said.

He said, however, he has found it generally difficult to generate political activism at UCLA.

“Students are tuned out and not asked to be civically engaged,” he said.

Sandoval has been involved in student movements since his arrival at the UCLA campus five years ago.

He taught a course called “Art as Social Action.” Some of the banners and posters made by students in the course were used in 2009 for campus protests.

Sandoval also helped organize UCLA Fights Back, a group of graduate students who protested fee hikes in 2009. More recently, he helped convene the first general assembly for Occupy UCLA.

After helping with the initial organization of the movement, Sandoval then stepped back to allow others a more prominent role in coordinating the group, he said.

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