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Activism, perspective at UC Irvine

Students recall political voices being raised last year as they look forward to the next.

October 02, 2010|By Joanna Clay, joanna.clay@latimes.com

UC Irvine hasn't always been characterized as a politically active campus. Unlike UC Berkeley, which for many years was known as a hotbed of political demonstrations and activists' antics, UCI seemed the sleepier and less radical campus in the University of California system.

That all seemed to change in the 2009-10 academic year.

In the nine months that spanned that school year, UCI's student body faced budget cuts, fee increases, racial tensions and student arrests, spurring students to hold up signs, grab microphones and make their opinions known.

On Sept. 24, 2009, students celebrated their first day of classes by shouting "Lay Off Yudof!" The state had directed the UC system to cut $800 million from its budget, resulting in fee hikes and furloughs. At the time, UC President Mark Yudof's annual salary was reported to be $591,084.

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On Feb. 8, 2010, 11 students were arrested at UCI for allegedly disrupting a speech by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, which eventually resulted in the suspension of a campus group, the Muslim Student Union.

A couple of weeks later, racist incidents targeting African American, Jewish and LGBT students were reported at the UC San Diego and UC Davis campuses.

Those incidents sparked a group of UCI students to come up with a list of 15 demands for Chancellor Michael Drake, which they presented in the form of a sit-in at his office in Aldrich Hall.

The list included requests for increased funding for ethnic and queer studies as well as a restructuring of the financial aid system. Police broke up the demonstration and arrested 17 students.

Last week, as the class of 2014 was marking the first week of the new school year, UCI students were talking about whether the previous year marked a turning point in campus activism.

To UC Student Regent Jesse Cheng, UCI is going back to its origins.

"In the beginning of UCI, we were a really active class," he said, referring to the campus's early years in the 1960s. "When the first-ever fee increases went around, there were 5000 students outside of Aldrich Hall, and the chancellor protested with them. I feel like people forget that."

Although Cheng, a fifth-year student, believes UCI has always been innately active, he does think that 2009-10 was a unique academic year, with a number of tense events culminating in a short amount of time.

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