On Thursday, November 17, I and a handful of other campus religious leaders met with Assistant Vice Chancellor Griselda Castro and discussed concerns around the campus’ response to students’ expression of solidarity with the Occupy movements around the country, and particularly with UC Berkeley students, faculty and staff harmed last week by police as they protested nonviolently. My hope was to offer feedback to the administration that their response was at best misguided and insufficient and that open dialogue was deeply needed. I questioned why police in full riot gear entered Mrak on Wednesday minutes after students who had been asked to leave voluntarily were packing up their things and exiting the building voluntarily. (On Wednesday, I sat with students in the lobby of Mrak after having been prevented from attending a meeting there on the interfaith service initiative that CA House is leading. The administration had shut down the elevator and locked the door to the stairwell. When I finally found a way down a set of back stairs to the meeting, I met Chancellor Katehi on the stairway, avoiding contact with the students in the lobby.) The responses I received from AVC Castro were:
- a volunteer committee is communicating with the students for the administration
- The police were not supposed to be in riot gear and the administration was also not happy about their response
- The administration is overworked and doing the best they can
- The Chancellor is unavailable due to her triple booked schedule to move forward her agenda of globalization and internationalization of the university
- The university’s highest goal is safety
While each of these responses is deeply problematic, perhaps the most concerning is that “the administration’s highest goal is safety.” This rhetoric is echoed in the Chancellor’s letter to the campus community after the pepper spraying, abuse and arresting of students peacefully protesting on the quad on Friday afternoon. I thought the university’s highest goals were the education of its students, advocacy of open dialogue, training in critical reflection, character and leadership development and the quest for knowledge, beauty and truth.
The ironies are overwhelming. Instead of insuring the stated “highest goal,” the police are violating the safety of the campus community. If the administration is dismayed about the response of the police, who is in charge? If certain members of the administration and staff are too overwhelmed due to budget cuts to respond appropriately, are they not also part of the 99%? I suggested this to AVC Castro and wondered out loud why she didn’t join the Occupiers. In the nine years I have known AVC Castro I have watched her health deteriorate and her control over her own life wane, all in faithful service to the university. This is not a rant against any one person, rather a depiction of a disturbingly dysfunctional system, a call for open and democratic dialogue, and a plea for leadership.
The administration, and particularly Chancellor Katehi, MUST commit to meeting with students on Monday on the quad in open dialogue. Letters and emissaries are not enough. While she has expressed sadness about the harm suffered by students on Friday, a personal apology is also in order. When AVC Castro said that the Chancellor is “unavailable due to being triple booked in moving forward her agenda of globalization and internationalization of the university,” I responded that her agenda reads as privatization to students and is part of the problem. If this is a misperception, it can only be dispelled in an open and transparent forum. While I have appreciated the Chancellor’s responses to hate crimes on campus, her dramatic increase of the budget of the LGBTRC and her support of women in the academy, she must also be present and effective in leading the university to fulfill the totality of its mission. This requires careful and ongoing conversation with students, faculty and staff about the increasing climate of criminalization and dehumanization on campus.
In the meantime, please pray for peaceful, positive and significant change. Pray for healing. One of our CA House interns, Tom Zolot, has been a leader in the movement, spoke at the rally on Thursday and is now home healing from being pepper sprayed. Another of our CA House interns, Emily Pickens-Jones, has been cooking food from the CA House pantry and the Co-op and shuttling warm rations to the students on the quad. Most students I know are shocked that peaceful protest has come to this. I urge each member of the campus and city communities to be present on Monday at noon on the UC Davis quad. We must not let the events of the past week devolve into recriminations and further divisiveness. The brokenness of our system is certainly clear to us now if anyone had any question before. Major changes that support the wellness of all in our community—police and student, Sodexho employee and faculty, administration and homeless—are desperately needed. Healing in a pluralistic context is complex: some call for forgiveness, while others demand justice in the form of law and consequence, while still others advocate letting go. Some have no regular experience with a practice that brings healing. But this does not mean that healing is unachievable. Healing begins with honesty, humility and a commitment to understand. It begins with showing up. I hope to see you on the quad on Monday.