In November, an estimated 1,500 students turned out for the school year’s first Million Student March, a nationwide student movement calling for significant reforms to the country’s education system.
That protest, according to a statement that month by UCSB Associated Students’ Student Advocate General, was the largest campus protest since the 1990s.
The chalk phrases coincided with pro-Donald Trump messages found written around campus, and are under UCSB Police Department investigation.
In response to the phrases, UCSB students and faculty set up a town hall meeting last week to discuss the balance between free speech and maintaining a welcoming campus environment — a debate that has raged across university campuses across the country.
In addition to its objective of showing solidarity with the student communities targeted by the chalk messages, the march was a demonstration for the movement’s four demands: tuition-free public education, cancelation of all student debt, a $15 minimum wage for all campus employees, and private-prison divestment by all universities and colleges.
The march kicked off at noon at the Arbor, the wide walkway in front of UCSB’s Davidson Library.
Hand-painted and printed signs denouncing universities’ investment in prisons and calling for free education accompanied student protest leaders giving short speeches through a megaphone to a crowd of about 200 hundred people.
“Students, now is the time — today — to reclaim our campus, so that all students, regardless of race, religion, immigration status, sexual orientation, and gender identity, can enjoy what UCSB has to offer,” one student said.
The march made a circuit through campus, stopping at various buildings where leaders would speak to the crowd on themes such as civil liberties and solidarity with minority communities.
The march ended in Isla Vista’s Perfect Park, where students put together their signs to form the Martin Luther King quotation, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Chants including “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts,” “Black lives matter,” and “Whose university? Our university!” rang through campus as the procession made its circuit. Students chalked messages on portable blackboard walls brought along on the route.
Partway through, the march was joined by a handful of students holding Donald Trump signs and wearing his signature red cap, but they mostly stood on the fringes and watched.
“The message of the march is that, yes, we want free higher education, but we also acknowledge that for education to be truly accessible to everybody, we need to deal with racial inequality, economic injustice, and racial hostility,” Mohsin Mirza, UCSB Associated Students’ External Vice President of Statewide Affairs, told Noozhawk.
The Million Student March emerged from what many college students around the country see as a wide array of injustices in the education system, including low-income families’ difficulty in affording tuition, large salaries for university administrators, investment in a 2.2 million-inmate prison system with a disproportionate number of minorities, and the $1.2 trillion of student debt in the U.S.
Last November, over 100 campuses across the country participated in the movement.
In 2015, the University of California system sold off nearly $30 million worth of assets in private prison corporations after intense collective pressure from each campus’ Black Student Union.
Since the inception of the California Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960, when the UC was tuition-free, Mirza said, the share of state funding the UCs have received has dropped precipitously while the prison system’s has jumped notably.
“Here in California, we’ve built 22 prisons in the time we’ve built one UC,” Mirza, who helped lead the march, told Noozhawk.
According to UC data, in 1970–71, UC and California State University funding made up 13.8 percent of the state budget versus 3.7 percent for corrections; in 2014–15, they were 5.2 and 8.9 percent, respectively.
UCSB Chancellor Henry Yang, the highest paid figure at the university, earned $323,916.
Administrators’ high salaries are unfair, the protestors argued, when low-paid campus workers are struggling to get by.
Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill raising California’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022.