It seems students and protests are like little kids and lollipops: The flavors keep changing, but you still can’t separate them.
For the past week, students, intent on starting off winter quarter with a bang, have waged protests against the return of Gabriel Piterberg, a history professor accused of sexually harassing two graduate students. This shouldn’t come as anything new, though. After all, students have been protesting with this enthusiasm since 1987, if not earlier.
Back in 1987, a student protest against South African apartheid made its appearance in the Daily Bruin’s front page. In the spring of 1986, hundreds of chanting students and demonstrators participated in an anti-apartheid rally and occupied then-UCLA’s Placement and Career Planning Center.
The Daily Bruin reported that 15 students demonstrated with a sit-in and failed to comply with police chief Patrick Connolly’s order to vacate the building. UCPD then arrested the students and charged them with “disrupting daily operations.” The article further details that the university later sanctioned the students with warning letters in their conduct files.
Thirty-one years may have passed, but the university’s response seems not to have changed that much. This week’s protesters received warnings from several deans present with suspension – even expulsion – for interrupting class. The deans even used 21st-century technology that allowed them to take photos of and notes on the protesters who failed to comply with their warnings.
It should not come as a huge shock, however, that such passionate protests garner such stern university responses. Certainly, the motivations for the two protests are different, but the underlying vivacity is quite similar in both instances.
The motivation for the 1987 protests was the abhorrence of South African apartheid, and just reflecting on today’s global perils should show us human rights grievances are most certainly a catalyzing source for demonstrations.
The Piterberg protests are also based in a similar passion. Last year, a Title IX investigation of Piterberg ensued after two of his graduate students reported years of being sexually harassed. Yet, the office later agreed to end the investigation in exchange for a paltry punishment of a $3,000 fine and an 11-week trip to Europe. Protests seem a natural response to such disappointing enforcement of university policy and bare-bones ethics.
For the time being, it’s unclear whether Piterberg will be fired by the university given the wave of student criticisms. But, given the vitality demonstrated in student protests going all the way back to 1987, we can expect Bruins to ensure their voices are heard.