SANTA CRUZ – A day after a large rally against tuition hikes and pay cuts, several dozen UC Santa Cruz students and workers remained barricaded in the Graduate Student Commons on Friday in an effort to continue Thursday’s walkout and strike.Protesters took over the second floor of the Commons building at 5 p.m. Thursday after marching from the site of a demonstration and picket line formed by a union representing about 150 UCSC employees. Banners saying “Raise Hell, Not Costs” and “We Are the Crisis” were hung over the balcony of the Commons area, where participants later playing loud music and hosting a dance party.
Doors barricaded by furniture and metal cords stretched between door handles can be seen from the rear of the 8-year-old building, which is built on a slope. The words “Occupy Everything” have been spray-painted in black on the back of the building.
Participants are calling the move a peaceful “occupation.” They say no student who has requested access to the space – which is ordinarily used for studying or socializing – has been denied.
“I’d like to see this as the beginning of an anti-cutbacks movement,” said a UCSC employee who declined to give his name. “This is the first salvo.”
Most of the participants agreed to talk only on condition of anonymity.
Graduate student Christopher Barkan, who is acting as a spokesman, said the group has not set a date by which they intend to leave. He said they aim to educate students and others who walk by the site above Joe’s Pizza and Subs at Quarry Plaza about what they see as unjust cuts.
“Our message is we have to occupy and escalate,” Barkan said.
Another participant said he slept on the floor Thursday night before getting up early for “guard duty,” to watch for campus authorities. The 21-year-old junior said he hopes to tell the University of California’s administration to “stop stealing from us – our only option is to defend what’s ours.”
The campus police chief visited the site with student affairs leaders on Friday, but the officials are hesitant to remove the group because the Commons is a student space. However, they are concerned about the fire hazard posed by doors that are blocked from the inside.
“At this point in time, we are monitoring the situation and have taken no action to remove the occupants from this graduate-student center,” campus spokesperson Jim Burns said. “But we’re keenly aware that the protesters’ actions are impacting our students, denying access to the very people who pay for the center, operate it and use it regularly. Ultimately, this building will need to be reopened so that our students can have access to it.”
Chelsea Juarez, president of the Commons governing board, and Diane Brookes, the facility manager, did not immediately return messages. But one of the participants said Juarez visited the site Friday to ensure there was no damage.
Demonstrators are demanding the university’s president and governing body stop cutting employee pay and increasing student fees to cover an $813 million loss in state funding – which amounts to more than 20 percent of the $3.3 billion Sacramento gives UC annually. UC’s total budget is $19.6 billion, with about $4 billion in reserves.
Protesters say the university should draw down the savings and take from medical center profits to reduce the toll on students and employees. Enrollment was trimmed by nearly 7 percent at UCSC this fall amid employee furloughs and layoffs.
“There have been so many hikes in tuition and at the same time they are cutting our resources,” said Elizabeth Jarasunas of Los Angeles, a junior philosophy major who supports the Commons demonstration. “We end up paying more for a less-quality education.”
She and freshman Edward Loseman, a molecular biology major from the Dominican Republic, said they have not gone inside the occupied area but hope the event galvanizes students around fighting budget cuts.
“It’s about time we stop playing by their rules,” Loseman said.