Jonah Most, Berkeley Daily Planet, May 4, 2011
Hungry students and their supporters sit for the seventh day in front of University of California at Berkeley’s California Hall, after a futile meeting with University Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. The students asked Birgeneau yesterday to reinstate fired ethnic-studies staff members.
“We’re still here, we’re still fighting and basically, we’re not going anywhere,” said a weary-looking, third-year Native American studies major, Zoila Lara-Cea.
They are protesting cuts resulting from a comprehensive audit of university operations conducted by the consulting firm Bain and Company. The auditors recommended trimming two-and-a-half staff positions from the Ethnic Studies Department.
Even though cuts are distributed university-wide, “people of color are targeted first,” asserted third-year ethnic studies student Edward Rivero.
“This institution is very white-dominated,” added Luzilda Carrillo, a fifth-year student majoring in integrative biology and anthropology.
At UC Berkeley, cuts will mean reduced office hours and unanswered phones. The history and psychology departments face similar cuts.
However, Carleen Sanchez, vice president of the National Association for Ethnic Studies, said that the protest represents a broader cause.
“Ethnic studies are under assault,” she stated in a phone interview.
“Administrators do not recognize the importance of ethnic studies,” Sanchez continued. “Given our origins in civil rights, I think that that type of direct action and individual sacrifice is part of our history.” She emphasized, “A hunger strike is not silly.”
The students plan to continue their protest throughout this week.