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Power of the People

by Myra Duran, PEP Young Women's Leadership Council

“Power of the People” “No Cuts, No Fees, Education should be FREE!” and “Si Se Puede!” were some of the anthems that penetrated the air during the UC Walkout protests that took place on November 18th and 19th 2009 at the UCLA campus. Hundreds of students, UC employees, union leaders, and faculty from the ten University of California (UC) campuses were not going to leave until their voices were heard.

Homemade signs and noisemakers accompanied the loud chants that continued from early morning to early evening. For those two days, these people were unified and relentless. Their common bond was not only to demonstrate will and strength, but to demonstrate hope. Hope for an educational environment that seeks to foster growth rather than to hinder it, hope for an institution that doesn’t burden its workers with worries of lost pay, and hope for faculty whose role in expanding students knowledge is not overshadowed by mandatory furloughs caused by budget cuts.

You might be skeptical of the picture I’ve painted and whether these acts of protest were warranted. I know these details because I was there. I know because I was feeling every emotion possible those two days. I know because it directly affects 34,000 UCLA students, including myself.

You see, the UC Regents govern the financial budget for the entire UC institution and decided that it was fair for them to vote on a proposal to increase undergraduate tuition by 32%. Unfortunately, this proposal passed and went into effect immediately, affecting thousands of students at UC schools.

As a first-generation college student born to immigrant parents from Mexico, the opportunity to attend college has always been a privilege. Taking many loans out every year and accepting the reality that I probably won’t be financially stable for a long time after I graduate has been something I’ve had to struggle with. Personally, the increase in student fees is another hurdle I will have to jump in my young college career, and asking my parents for more money is not an option. While I can continue to live in constant uncertainty, the truth of the matter is that I’m better off than most college students.

Undocumented and AB-540 (qualifying undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at state colleges) college students are in a dire situation. Unlike me, they generally don’t qualify for in-state or federal financial aid- including need based, merit-based and university scholarships. Consequentially, it is an exception - not a rule - that most of them are even given the opportunity to attend college. Due to the lack of financial security, a number of undocumented college-bound students struggle to pay for tuition and the private scholarships they do earn are often insufficient to live a successful college life.

Many of my friends who are AB-540 and undocumented students have  struggled for a long time to get to the position they are in now. This fee hike is another example of how our nation has lost sight of providing a democratic system that values equal access to a public education. The devastating effects this attack on public education is going to have on undocumented students closely mirrors the historical treatment the State continues to impose on immigrants.

A democratic society is highly dependent on the quality of education it bestows on its youth, and we must question the principles that the UC system and the state endorse when they continue to challenge and marginalize excellence because of costs. Slowly but surely, immigrants, AB-540 students, undocumented students and workers will be pushed to the sidelines unless a comprehensive immigration reform occurs immediately.

We must not fear the changing face of our nation, but instead come together and embrace our common struggles in an effort to restore a country that was once seen as the “land of opportunity.”

Click here to watch video footage of those affected by the recent UC fee hikes and click here to see how you can help prevent undocumented students from disappearing within our education system

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