Hunger strikers remain camped outside California Hall

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Taryn Erhardt/Senior Staff



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Around 12 hunger strikers and their supporters remained camped outside California Hall late Tuesday night following an afternoon of demonstrations, unsure whether they would stay through the morning and risk arrest in their protest of the consolidation of staff positions in three UC Berkeley social science departments.

The strikers and their handful of supporters were the only remaining protesters after a long day of demonstrations, which included an offer from campus administrators to meet with some from the group to discuss their demands - an offer protesters declined. Instead, they opted to conduct a series of meetings to discuss possibilities for further action, though as night fell their exact plans remained unclear.

The protesters began their strike around 2:30 p.m. and released a statement detailing their initial demands, which include the reinstatement of staff positions due to be cut, ending the cost-cutting Operational Excellence initiative, supporting a California legislative resolution advocating for ethnic studies in the state and "publicly (acknowledging) the unfulfilled promise of the creation of a Third World College at UC Berkeley."

"This administration has decided it will cut departments that ... predominantly affect students of color on this campus, and that is something we cannot stand for," said sophomore and campus activist Marco Amaral, a participant in the strike. "It is our struggle, our right to keep that dream alive."

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Harry Le Grande addressed the strikers at 3:20 p.m., asking if three or four of the strikers would meet with administrators in California Hall to discuss their demands and gave them a deadline of 4 p.m. to decide whether to have the meeting.

No meeting occurred, and at around 6:30 p.m., Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Gibor Basri delivered a letter to protesters in response to their earlier demands.

The letter - which was authored by Basri and Carla Hesse, dean of the division of social sciences - said the administrators would contact the protesters Wednesday to make arrangements for a meeting about the demands and that campus rules do not allow overnight lodging or camping.

"We understand that you do not agree with the reasoning behind some of these reductions, and we are happy to have further informed discussions about the process and rationale," the letter states. "Our hope is to understand one another better, given that we have the same ultimate goals for equity and inclusion."

The ethnic studies department - which was formed in 1969 as the result of a tumultuous movement to establish such a college at UC Berkeley - now faces staff consolidation through the organizational simplification initiative of Operational Excellence, which has resulted in plans to reorganize staff members and cut work hours in gender and women's studies, African American studies and ethnic studies departments.

The consolidation of staff members in the departments - which is part of an effort to save $500,000 in the Division of Social Sciences through restructuring - has drawn criticism from a coalition of students in the departments, who authored a letter addressed to the organizational simplification team of Operational Excellence stating demands such as reversing staff layoffs and cuts to work hours.

In response to the letter, Operational Excellence faculty program head Andrew Szeri met with Hesse on March 31 to go over the data used to make the restructuring decision, though he ultimately chose to stand by the layoffs and cuts. Two staff reductions in the ethnic studies department will occur Friday, Amaral said.

"The issue with OE is they see it like 'If we cut everybody equally, they'll be affected equally,' and that's just not true," said Joan Jones, a senior and ethnic studies minor. "In reality, we started with less, we have less and when you cut, it makes a big difference to those communities."

Following the distribution of copies of the letters, protesters gathered in a circle as one protester read the letter to the assembled crowd. The protesters then conducted a private meeting and dispersed into separate groups to flesh out further plans before about 15 protesters reconvened in front of California Hall around 9:30 p.m., some wrapped in blankets.

"At this time, the strikers have made a decision to stay on strike until their demands are met," said senior Horacio Corona, who is acting as a liaison between the strikers and the Ethnic Studies Undergraduate Graduate Front, a coalition of students who supported the strikers throughout the day.

Corona said the initial demands that protesters had made were being revised in light of the response by campus administrators and added that while plans for the rest of the night were still in flux, a more concrete action is scheduled for Wednesday at noon.

Tags: CALIFORNIA HALL, COALITION FOR GENDER AND WOMEN'S STUDIES, AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES AND ETHNIC STUDIES


Contact Alisha Azevedo, J.D. Morris and Aaida Samad at [email protected]



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