Writer: David Chavez, Ph.D Student, Department of History
In the May 9 article, “Chancellor Wilcox discusses plans for school expansion,” the first steps of the UCR Physical Master Plan revealed as its first act, the displacement of the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students who live in Canyon Crest Student Family Housing. In over 12-24 months more than 100 homes, a playground, a community center, computer lab, the KUCR radio station and acres of green space are to be destroyed to make room for an entertainment center and basketball court. Worst yet, the article reported that there is absolutely no plan on where current families would relocate or if the cost of rent would stay at its current, affordable rate of $725 – $775 per month.
Instead, the only thing that the town hall meeting made clear is that UCR, Chancellor Kim Wilcox, Vice Chancellor for Planning and Budget Maria R. Anguiano, the private architectural firm Moore Ruble Yudell and the unnamed “committee of 29” have unilaterally decided to wreak havoc on residents of family housing in the service of reaping expected financial benefits of a 55-acre entertainment venue. For all the rhetoric on community inclusion, the decision was done top-down.
1) Of the two “visioning meetings” (February and April 2015), neither were held at the most significant site of “development,” family housing.
2) The most active student-group in family housing, R’Kids, was intentionally excluded from the “150 student organizations” that the planning committee contacted.
3) No formal communication or outreach to the more than 100 residents who reside in family housing regarding their eviction has been made by UCR. On the Physical Master Plan Study website Anguino states that the campus’ visioning means to “Give everyone a chance to make their voices heard on a wide variety of issues.” Everyone, it seems, except those who stand to lose the most.
So let us call it what it is: Mass eviction. UCR is engaging in what Causa Justa :: Just Cause identifies as a multifaceted phenomenon of gentrification and displacement which centers: financially driven violent restructuring, maximization of rents, new money chasing (i.e. 7,000 new students), sweeping away of residents and governing bodies prioritizing the market over people. In our current neoliberal moment of “the financialization of everything,” (David Harvey, Oxford University Press, 2005) the displacement of some of the most vulnerable students at UCR is both condemnable and unsurprising.
UCR, like all UCs, inherently centers displacement as a foundational logic because their construction was concretized through the secession of stolen Indigenous lands granted by the Morill Acts (1862/1890) as land-grant institutions. This settler colonial legal structure of Indigenous displacement continues today here at UCR on occupied Cahuilla land. Now in 2016, the targeting and liquidation of abject and deviant bodies for UCR is no longer exclusively imposed on Indigenous people, but now working-class students with children, single parents, students on government assistance, students with non-nuclear family structures, international students and, in particular, students of color. Like UC Berkeley did in the late 1990s with its family housing, UCR is playing its role in the larger scheme of the settler colonial white supremacist neoliberal state restructuring. The destruction of the one affordable spatial asset for students who would otherwise not be able to attend and afford to participate in the university, is being done to “strengthen campus identity” as a site of managerial professionalization and financial accumulation.
As a former two-year resident (2013 – 2015) of Canyon Crest Student Family Housing, I can attest to the need of physical repair of the Canyon Crest community. The lead-infused walls, doors, windowsills painted over ad nauseum for “safety,” the outdoor corroding water heaters resting on dirt, absence of WiFi, central heating or air conditioning, having to DIY curtains for the dozen or more windows, etc. However, even with these issues, I found it to be a beautiful space to raise your children and build a community. There are no fences dividing neighbors, it is adjacent to the child development center, where most families (including me) send their young children and finally, it is within 15 minutes walking distance from the center of campus.
Instead of blocking the most important stakeholders from the planning process and then deciding to displace their homes with no plan to house them, UCR must instead approach the Physical Master Plan from the perspective of spatial justice. In the summer 2007 editorial note of Critical Planning, the authors argue spatial justice, “means understanding the dialectical relationship between not only the economic and social conditions of different groups, but also the geography of injustice ⸺ that is, how the social production of space, in turn, impacts social groups and their opportunities.” (Bromberg, Morrow, Pfieffer, 2007). Until a spatially just agreement is met with the residents, the demolition of family housing must not go forward.