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Unrest at UCLA


A year after Proposition 8's passage and following earlier protests to keep tuition affordable, University of California students last week found themselves with picket signs and raised voices once again, awaiting a vote that would affect their futures. On November 19, the UC board of regents approved a 32% increase in tuition, including a midyear hike effective in January and another increase in the fall, bringing the tuition at the University of California past the $10,000 mark for the first time, tripling the cost of attending a UC school over a decade ago.

University officials insist that the $505 million to be raised by the tuition increases is needed to prevent further cuts because of California's ongoing financial crisis. While UC president Mark Yudof says families with incomes of less than $70,000 a year won't be affected, some students remain skeptical.

"Offering me more loans doesn't mean that my tuition will be covered," said Samantha Lustado, a geography undergraduate student.

Lustado, a board member of UCLA's undergraduate Queer Alliance and member of various queer student organizations, fears that many of her fellow underclassmen may not be able to continue at the university because of these increases, herself included. Because federal aid for students is allocated by the beginning of fall terms, students will have to find other means to pay for the midyear increase. For some, this may mean taking on a second or third job, applying for a loan through private banks, or commuting from home rather living near or on campus. Some may simply drop out.

Budget cuts have already made themselves felt through a decrease in library hours and reduced course offerings. The cuts continue to threaten the diversity and richness of public higher education. UCLA's schedule of classes for next spring tentatively lists only one course in LGBT studies. The Psychology of the Lesbian Experience, a historic class and staple at the university taught by Linda Garnets for more than 20 years, will be offered for the last time this winter. Along with budget cuts, campuses may begin to feel student cuts as well.

As news of the vote spread, so did anger, heartbreak, and passion. Students and faculty across California converged on the University of California, Los Angeles, the epicenter of action, where the board of regents made their fateful decision. Many utilized their social networks, updating information on Facebook and sending mass text messages to organize various peaceful demonstrations. A flash mob of students dropped dead for a minute, symbolizing the death of public education in front of Covel Commons, where the regents met on the UCLA campus.

Not everything was peaceful.

"My friends got tazed by the police," read the Facebook status of UCLA undergraduate Ruth Mendez. "They only sat peacefully, and this is what the police do?! They tazed two members of my community and allies to my struggle as a queer Pinay."

UCLA's Queer Alliance director, Melanie Simangan, says the battle parallels another infamous California decision.

"I realized that the protests weren't just about fighting fee hikes," she said. "We were fighting so we could stay at UCLA and get our degrees, but also so we could continue the work we've been doing. What would happen if all these queer leaders suddenly disappeared? What would happen to the queer community at UCLA because of this? Like Proposition 8, we were being stripped of a fundamental right, though in this case we were being stripped of our right to an education."

Lustado agrees.

"I can't keep paying more for less and less," Lustado replied to the news. "Students defending visibility and acceptance on campuses all over California could become invisible. Diversity is what's at stake here."

While the protests eventually died down, students at their respective UC campuses are continuing to organize acts of peaceful protest and mobilizing various community meetings in order to determine the best course of action.

UC officials said state budget cuts left them no choice but to raise fees and noted that the system receives only half as much per student from the state as it did in 1990.

UC president Yudof told reporters he couldn't rule out raising student fees again if the state cannot meet his request for an additional $913 million next year for the 10-campus system."I can't make any ... promises," he said.

"While the increased cost presents an insurmountable barrier to college access for thousands of students and potential students, it's only the tip of the iceberg," Gregory Cendana, president of the United States Student Association, said in a statement. "Nationwide, states are balancing budgets on the backs of students, slashing higher education funding and raising tuition and fees. Students need financial relief now more than ever."

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