Senna Omar / The Highlander

Pro-Palestinian protestors from across the University of California (UC) system came together to advocate and demand for the UC Board of Regents to hear their calls for divestment and disclosure. A few days prior to UC Merced hosting their first Regents meeting on their campus from May 14 to May 16, UC Merced’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), UC alumni, and community members gathered to launch their encampment on May 12, 2024 to join the nationwide efforts of pro-Palestinan protesters. To read more about the UC Merced encampment, read “The student intifada” by Senna Omar on page seven.

During all three-days of the UC Regents meeting, the general public gathered outside the meeting’s doors in hopes of having their statements heard during Public Comment. As Public Comment began on May 15, several UC community members, including students and alumni who had traveled from all across the UC, were unable to share their statements due to limited access to the building.

Celene Aridin, Associated Students of UC Davis’ Vice President of External Affairs, explained how she had reached out to organizers of the Regents meeting to discuss efficient methods for Public Comment. Aridin explained, “[organizers of the Regents meeting] said that the students who didn’t go [May 15] can be prioritized for tomorrow.”

Aridin brought light to the fact that several students had driven long distances specifically for this meeting’s Public Comment and that it was discouraging for them to have to make the trip again to have the opportunity to share their thoughts.

As the meeting progressed, protesters engaged in civil disobedience, disrupting the meeting. This disruption was captured by Students for Justice in Palestine’s UC Merced chapter and posted on their Instagram. Protesters disturbed the meeting with shouts and chants aimed at the Board. “36,000 dead,” exclaimed one protester. Another protester followed with, “On the anniversary of the Nakba … Shame on you!”

The post also shows Board members leaving their seats and police officers coming in as protesters held their keffiyehs before them, all while continuously chanting, “UC, UC, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

During the disruption, Regent Lark Park announced warnings to audience members, demanding they end the protest. By the final and third warning, Regent Park requested that “the appropriate police officer make a declaration of unlawful assembly and clear the room.”

UC Los Angeles student David Ramirez and UC Davis student Valeria Cantor recalled the disruption and noted the attempts made by protesters to have their voices heard by the Regents. Ramirez criticized the actions of the Regents as the disruption occurred, “I think it’s just ironic how this university teaches us to disrupt the status quo, to speak out against injustices … this is the first opportunity [Regents] have to hear from UC Merced students first-hand about what they feel about what’s going on, and yet, rather than listening to their own students, they call in hundreds of police officers to brutalize them and kick them out of the meeting.”

By the end of the May 15 meeting, protesters gathered to chant peacefully outside of the building. While marching back to the encampment, protesters chanted, “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest” before marching to the encampment.

Public Comment on the third and final day of the Regents meeting allowed students and alumni to stress the importance of divestment to support the people of Palestine; students also urged Regents to vote “no” on action item J1. Titled “Adoption of Regents Policy on Public and Discretionary Statements by Academic Units,” J1 is meant to ensure that information, such as “political or controversial issues,” posted on university websites do not represent the institution’s views.

A couple of speakers during Public Comment were critical of J1 because it would limit the kind of speech allowed on university websites. The document notes that any speech released by university-associated individuals must adhere to the guidelines the university has set.

“However, individual faculty members, groups of faculty or Units could choose to express opinions on other pages of a Unit’s website provided that statements made on behalf of the Unit must be consistent with procedures adopted by the Unit and must include a disclaimer that the opinions do not represent the official views of the University,” as stated on J1’s background information.

Hoku Jeffrey, an organizer for By Any Means Necessary (BAMN), held a petition signed by “over 1,000 students in the University of California [system],” lobbying the Regents to vote against the adoption of J1. Jeffrey added, “There must be a no-gag rule on … students, faculty and staff that are defenders of the Palestinian struggle for equality.”

The decision of whether or not to approve J1 was pushed to the next Regents meeting in July.

UC Irvine student Dee Statum stood in for their professor during Public Comment. Statum held up their phone to the microphone, playing a recording of his distressed professor being arrested at the UC Irvine encampment. Echoing throughout the room, Statum’s professor was heard pleading, “We cannot have a genocidal foreign policy in a democracy because the young people are going to be the ones that pay the price for these horrible decisions,” with her voice becoming more frustrated and agitated with every word.

Shortly after, Statum returned to Public Comment for their own statement. They expressed, “There will be no University of California without its students. The decent thing that you all can do if you don’t want to divest is at least fire the Chancellors who are sitting here and abusing students. That’s the least that you can do.”