Students take UC's case to the Capitol

Jasmin Avila documents events in Sacramento. (Photo by Edgar Ontiveros)
Students begin their march in Sacramento, urging lawmakers to preserve funding for education.
UCSC student Tiffany Loftin addresses the crowd outside the office of Assemblyman Jim Nielsen. (Photos by Jasmin Avila)

On March 1, students from across all 10 UC campuses came together in solidarity to speak out against the state of public education.

California's higher education program was originally created in the 1960s. This program, which came to be known as the Master Plan, was a document with the ideals of creating a university that accurately represented the demographic makeup of California--a tuition-free institution that championed accessibility to education and guaranteed entry to the top 12.5 percent of graduating high school seniors.

Since its formation in 1960, state lawmakers and the governor have betrayed the Master Plan and broken its promise for access and affordability to higher education. Between 2001-02 and 2008-09, student fees doubled, according to the UC Student Association 2009 Affordability Report.

Faced with unprecedented budget shortfalls and declines in state support, the UC Board of Regents in November enacted a 15 percent mid-year fee increase for 2009-10 and another 15 percent fee increase for the 2010-11 academic year.

Students facing the plight of funding their education could no longer be silenced; we came together and began to fight back.

The day of action began outside of a Sacramento building on K Street, where Victor Sanchez, president of the University of California Student Association, as well as other student representatives met with UC President Mark Yudof and UC Regent Chairman Russell Gould.

Afterward, hundreds of students proceeded to the Capitol building, where we gathered together to march as one. We chanted our frustration as we walked around the surrounding blocks of the Capitol building holding signs of protest.

The march concluded at the steps of the Capitol building, where a number of speakers shared personal narratives, feelings of outrage, and song. As the crowd slowly dwindled in size, various students expressed themselves through open mic.

We were soon informed that several of our students were silently protesting outside of the office of Assemblyman Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), vice chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. The sit-in was conducted with the intention of having a meeting with Nielsen where they could ask him to support initiative outreach programs, and to deny the passing of a budget that doesn't prioritize education.

More of us began to gather silently in front of Nielsen's office in support of five students who were arrested after refusing to leave unless the Assemblyman pledged to preserve funding for higher education and increase student diversity. The "Nielsen Five" were detained and later released.

March 1 was a day full of student voice, student power, and student action. Our efforts empowered students and set the foundation for a movement we haven't seen in years. This was only the beginning of the ongoing fight for students to reinstate the Master Plan and reclaim the education that is rightfully theirs.