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IN THE NEWS:

SJP and UC Divest Coalition Demonstrations at UCLAUCLA chancellor appointment

UC Board of Regents hears calls for divestment during public comment at UC Merced

Members of the UC Board of Regents stand and applaud UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, whose tenure will come to an end in June 2024. (Sam Mulick/Daily Bruin)

By Dylan Winward and Sam Mulick

May 15, 2024 6:31 p.m.

MERCED – The UC Board of Regents heard public comment from community members who largely called for divestment from businesses associated with Israel.

The UC Board of Regents is holding its monthly meeting Tuesday to Thursday at UC Merced. At the beginning of a full meeting of the board Wednesday morning, students and community members from across the UC shared public comments. The regents shared information about the University’s investment portfolio during a meeting Tuesday.

Around 50 people in the UC Merced Palestine solidarity encampment chanted “Free, free Palestine” and “UC Regents, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.” The encampment was set up on campus facing the UC Merced Conference Center, where the regents were meeting.

Noor, a media liaison for the encampment who did not give her last name, said the encampment was set up in solidarity with other campuses to call for the University to divest from companies associated with Israel, call for a ceasefire and reinvest the money into fellowships for undocumented students. Noor added that UC Merced’s encampment hopes to remain peaceful by engaging in de-escalation tactics.

(Dylan Winward/Daily Bruin senior staff)
UC students and members of the public demanded the UC Board of Regents divest from companies associated with Israel and the Thirty Meter Telescope in Hawaii. (Dylan Winward/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Valeria Cantor Mendez, the vice chair of the UC Student Association, called on the regents to acquiesce to the demands of the Palestine solidarity encampment at UC Merced.

“The Palestinian people have suffered enough,” she said. “The time to divest is now. The blood is on your hands.”

One speaker who did not give their name said they believe the regents should grant amnesty to arrested students, including the more than 200 at UCLA.

“I’d like to recognize that today is Nakba Remembrance Day, a day when thousands of Palestinians were forced to flee their homes,” they said. “I also call on the UC to rescind any forms of civil and academic action against students who have been engaged in peaceful demonstrations.”

Another speaker, who did not give their name, said they believe the regents should condemn the recent violence against protesting students, including the shooting of students with less-than-lethal rounds at UCLA. They added they believe the regents should vote to reject item J1, a proposal to restrict the statements academic departments can put on their websites which will be discussed Thursday.

Hoku Jeffrey — an organizer with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary —said he believes that recent student protests, including encampments across the UC system, also influenced a recent announcement by President Joe Biden that Biden may reduce support to Israel.

Biden has since announced he is moving forward with a $1 billion arms deal with Israel, according to the Associated Press.

Leo Niehorster-Cook, a teaching assistant at UC Merced said they believe the campus encampments give their students a source of hope amid a time during which they believe the University’s actions have contributed to a genocide in the Gaza Strip. They added that they believe the United Auto Workers Local 4811 union will strike if its demands, which include divestment and amnesty for protesters, are not met.

“My students are overwhelmingly depressed,” they said. “The reason why is because they attend a university that they know to be complicit in genocide.”

(Sam Mulick/Daily Bruin)
Students at the UC Merced Palestine solidarity encampment protested the UC Regents meeting, where the regents disclosed financial investments in companies that are associated with the Israeli military. (Sam Mulick/Daily Bruin)

Erica Maria Cheung, an alumnus of UC Irvine, said she was concerned because she believes UCLA’s administration allowed aggressors to attack the UCLA Palestine solidarity encampment on the evening of April 30. UCLA administration claimed in a statement May 1 at 12:12 a.m. that they immediately called the police, but officers did not intervene until nearly two hours later.

Speakers also voiced their objection to the Thirty Meter Telescope, a project in Hawaii that had construction from 2014 to 2015. Since then, no construction has occurred. The project faced opposition in 2019 from student groups because its proposed site is on land sacred to native Hawaiian people.

Mariel Vázquez, a professor of microbiology and molecular genetics at UC Davis, said she believed the project to build the telescope on indigenous land is similar to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.

“Mauna Kea is a sacred mountain acting as a cosmological source for the Native Hawaiian people,” she said. “The construction of this telescope would have long-term environmental impacts on the endemic plant and animal species on the mountain and will contaminate the island’s major freshwater sources.”

James Chang, legislative director of UC Berkeley’s graduate assembly, also called on the regents to take action to address students facing food insecurity and to support undocumented students. Although the regents had originally promised action to allow undocumented students to be hired by the University, they shelved the plans in January.

Speakers also shared the benefits of academic mentorship. The regents also heard a presentation on the benefits of mentorship within STEM fields during a meeting of the academic and student affairs committee Wednesday.

At the end of public comment, Chair Richard Leib said these were his last meetings as chair of the board and he was grateful to the UC Academic Senate and to other regents for the assistance he has received from them. He added that he believes the University has succeeded in listening to staff and students across his tenure.

“We often engender controversy and even scorn, but we must continue to do so, for the future of the University depends not only on collaboration, inclusion and engagement but in the fact that our decisions are guided by our principles and moral compass,” Leib said.

James Steintrager, the faculty representative to the regents, said he believes the institution should have done a better job at providing safety for the UCLA Palestine solidarity encampment on April 30 when it was attacked by aggressors using fireworks and tear gas. He added that there is a lack of trust in the UC Board of Regents among faculty.

While academic freedom has difficult and nuanced aspects, the University should work to create spaces for conversations about politics, Steintrager said.

“If the University of California cannot have difficult conversations and debates on these topics, I’m not sure what the right place might be,” he said.

The regents also unanimously passed a resolution recognizing the work of UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, including in preserving and promoting free speech. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Palestine solidarity encampment at UC Berkeley was dismantled Tuesday after reaching an agreement with Christ.

Christ also received two standing ovations from the UC Board of Regents.

UC President Michael Drake said the University has faced difficulties balancing its commitment to free speech with ensuring a safe campus environment. He added that the University has contracted an external firm in policing reform and content-neutral policing to conduct an independent review of the University’s systemwide response to recent protests.

“Our campuses must be places where our community members can safely engage in the University’s mission of teaching, research and public service,” he said. “We will continue to provide our campuses with the resources and support they need to achieve this.”

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Dylan Winward | News editor
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year English literature and statistics student.
Winward is the 2023-2024 features and student life editor. He was previously a News reporter for campus politics and features and student life. He is also a second-year English literature and statistics student.
Mulick is a news contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a third-year sociology student from northern New Jersey.
Mulick is a news contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a third-year sociology student from northern New Jersey.
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