I am writing this post just minutes after I got back from a rally regarding the events at the University of California, Davis on Friday. The rally is still going strong, and I anticipate that the quad, usually a place for a leisurely lunch or game of Frisbee, will continue to be humming with activity and energy for a while to come. Since Friday, the whole university has felt different.
Last week, students were gathering all week in the quad to raise awareness and protest the fee hikes facing the entire University of California system. By the end of the week, tents had sprung up in the middle of the quad. They took up little space and, apart from some banners voicing concerns about the high costs of public education, were mostly unobtrusive. I was aware of what was happening on campus, but I was not involved with any aspect of the protest.
Friday evening, I was shocked to find video footage and photographs of police officers in riot gear spraying peaceful protestors at point blank range. A few hours later, I, and everyone with a ucdavis email address, received an email from Chancellor Linda Katehi. And then the emails really started pouring in. Within a couple of hours, a rally had been organized at the quad for Monday, but that didn’t stop the flood of emails and information.
I was just at the quad. There were plenty of news crews there, so I don’t expect to be scooping anyone here, or providing any secret, insider information. First, the students who were pepper-sprayed and arrested by the university’s police department spoke of their experiences. One student had IVs on her eyes. One student was denied medical care while in police custody after being pepper sprayed. Another student was arrested with such force that he has nerve damage to his left hand.
Next, the rally became a general assembly. People were given the opportunity to speak briefly to the crowd. Nathan Brown, the assistant professor whose email calling for Chancellor Katehi to resign spread across the web and became a change.org petition, reiterated his wish for Chancellor Katehi to resign. The UC Davis English Department stepped up and voiced their support of the students. Someone from UC Berkeley came and said that they stood with UC Davis. Someone from UCLA came, too.
And the students of UC Davis came out in full force. Students from the various campus groups came and gave their support. Students from Hispanic student groups came to voice their concerns about fee hikes and voice their support of the student protestors. From another group, a student stopped to point out that it was a beautiful thing that this protest was going on, and reminded the participants that such expression would not be possible in some places. Students from the black student groups came and spoke to the use of police brutality in communities of color, and spoke against the actions on Friday. Each speaker or group of speakers echoed the message of coming together as a community.
Hearing each group of students speak, from the ones who spoke of their experiences with police brutality on Friday to the ones speaking for their right to accessible public education, was the most moving and invigorating and generally hopeful part of the rally. A diversity of issues, opinions, perspectives, backgrounds, and knowledge was brought to the floor, and the community responded with respect.
Chancellor Katehi spoke, too. After some chants asking for her to come forward and speak, one of the students organizing the event told the crowd that Katehi could wait her turn ““ she was not special. When she spoke, she looked visibly upset and shaken. Her speech was low on substance, but it looks like the last few days have gotten to Chancellor Katehi.
It’s weird being in all of this. I am certain that it is even weirder for the students who were directly involved in the incident on Friday. But even for someone on the periphery, even for someone who is a member of the university community but not involved in the initial protests, the last few days have been a whirlwind. It’s hard to focus on anything else when there is a constant barrage of emails, videos, testimonials, and news articles coming in. It’s hard to focus on anything else when your university becomes the center of so much media attention. It’s hard to focus on anything else when you’re wondering if your school will become a symbol. There’s so much happening and so little decided.
It’s weird, too, knowing that this story is already getting replaced by another one. It’s mostly over for people outside of the UC system. I expect there will be some interest in what happens with the investigation into the events on Friday, and whether the chancellor will resign, but overall, people are moving on. On the internet, Lieutenant John Pike is a meme that is already stale. But Friday still holds weight here. The fall out will immediately and directly impact the community here, the community of which I am a part.
At the rally today, most of the media left immediately after Katehi spoke. Many people remained, and many people still took time to address the assembly. After the news cameras rolled away, the community was left to talk amongst itself. We are left to think about how to move forward, how to make the campus safe again, how to best rebuild as a community. And that’s how it feels ““ even when the story is “over” in the media, it won’t be “over” here.