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Longest Sit-In in UCLA History Ends with Massive Victory for Students

A 16-day sit-in by a coalition of students striking for hybrid access and equity for marginalized students got results.

This is a photo the Chancellor's office at UCLA - the windows are covered with signs calling UCLA ableist, and asking the university to keep students safe.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block’s office covered with signs at Murphy Hall sit-in. (Daily Bruin)

This is a republished press release shared with Knock LA by the Disabled Student Union and UCLA Student Body President Breeze Velasquez.

Isang bagsak. When one falls we all fall, when one rises, we all rise. After so much struggle, we are deciding to vacate Murphy Hall after 16 days, making our occupation the longest sit-in in UCLA history. We came together weeks ago with a shared vision of access for students to achieve a fulfilling education, above all else.

Access to remote learning options so students can choose how they learn best and safest. Access to a Black Bruin Resource Center with actual resources. Access to programs made for marginalized students, by marginalized students, without fear of intimidation or harassment. Access to growth, retention, and respect for BIPOC communities. Access and the fair chance at graduation we deserve at the Number 1 Public University. 

The wins we walk out of Murphy with today are vital for students in the years and decades to come. They were only made possible through our collective action, along with administrators in Student Affairs coming to the table in a truer spirit of shared governance with students.

The fight, however, continues, especially for the dual modality demands of the Disabled Student Union and all of us organizing in solidarity. Make no mistake, we will continue to fight for the right for students to have access to an education in which our survival, needs, and livelihood are taken into account. 

Over the past week, we were in constant dialogue with Student Affairs administrators and Academic Senate faculty representatives, demanding clearer, responses with concrete timelines. We were granted the following responses in a document signed by Chancellor Gene Block. Here is a summary of them:

American Indian Student Association

  • February 28, 2022: 
    • Chancellor guarantees a meeting with AI students and the Special Advisor for Native and Indigenous Affairs to establish an AI Living Learning Community 
    • Chancellor will reach out to UC Office of the President regarding fee waivers and scholarships for Native California Tribal student applicants
  • March 1, 2022:
    • AVC Campus Life Office will contact AISA to move forward on establishing an American Indian Resource Center
  • End of Spring Quarter 2022:
    • The Philanthropic Naming Committee will be convened to discuss renaming Janss Steps to Kuruvungna Steps
  • Fall Quarter 2022: 
    • Undergraduate Admissions will work with AISA to develop programs for AI recruitment, but did NOT yet commit to hiring another Native recruiter

Pacific Islands Student Association

  • February 28, 2022:
    • VC of Student Affairs staff will reach out to coordinate meetings to move forward on establishing a Pacific Islander Student Resource Center
  • March 1, 2022:
    • AVC Campus Life office will reach out to PISA to discuss further retention efforts and potential resources
  • End of Spring Quarter 2022:
    • A subgroup will be formed of members of the Faculty Forward Initiative to continue on hiring PI faculty housed under AASD, but there was NOT yet commit to hiring 10 PI faculty
  • Fall Quarter 2022:
    • Undergraduate Admissions agreed to hire one, NOT two, Pacific Islander recruiters

Afrikan Student Union

  • Immediately:
    • VC of Student Affairs Gorden will schedule monthly meetings with ASU Chair and projects for 90 minutes, once/month 
    • VC Gorden will schedule a meeting with VC of External Affairs to discuss endowment strategy and donor funding received already via the Rising to the Challenge Initiative
  • March 1, 2022:
    • VC Gorden will contact Office of the President to discuss models for shared governance in establishing a Board of Governors for the Black Bruin Resource Center
    • $50k in permanent funding will be made available to the BBRC by the Chancellor, bringing permanent funding to $300k/year. Student Affairs will additionally commit $100k in one-time funding for programming and will work on further efforts to raise money
  • March 4, 2022:
    • First of three meetings guaranteed between Black Alliance and the Chancellor
  • March 18, 2022:
    • VC Gorden will review with Campus Human Resources the request to change the title of ‘Project Coordinator’ to ‘Project Director’ within projects
  • May 20, 2022:
    • Second of three meetings guaranteed between Black Alliance and the Chancellor
  • June 30, 2022:
    • Third of three meetings guaranteed between Black Alliance and the Chancellor

Black Student Athlete Alliance

  • February 25, 2022:
    • VC Gorden’s office will reach out to schedule meetings with Athletic Director Jarmond, ASU Chair, and representatives of BSAA, as well as meetings with VC Gorden and VC of EDI Spain Bradley
  • Fall Quarter 2022:
    • Student Affairs and EDI will work together to create required anti-discrimination trainings to be provided to students

Mother Organizations Coalition

  • Immediately:
    • Student Affairs will establish a liaison relationship with support from SOLE to limit interaction between Community Programs Office staff and project staff
    • Complaints filed through EDI, Staff Diversity and Compliance, Title IX, and the Whistleblower hotline will be reviewed by appropriate offices
    • VC Gorden formally recognizes the validity of the SIOC and CRC Statements of Understanding, and the return of autonomy to the committees and projects according to the Statements of Understanding
    • VC Gorden commits to reworking previous unauthorized changes made by CPO to the hiring process, in favor of ending post-interview meetings and ensuring student input 
  • February 18, 2022:
    • VC of Student Affairs Office will reach out to Coalition to schedule monthly two-hour meetings through the end of the academic year
  • March 1, 2022:
    • Student Affairs will begin a climate improvement assessment through a third-party to interview stakeholders and examine how to improve the state of student-run, student-initiated projects
  • March 31, 2022:
    • First of two meetings between Chancellor and Coalition 
  • May 31, 2022:
    • Second of two meetings between Chancellor and Coalition

Disabled Student Union

  • Immediately, and on a rolling basis:
    • Student Affairs will reallocate current student staff and hire additional staff as ‘Zoom Assistants’ to support faculty in conducting live-stream options for classes
  • February 28, 2022:
    • Chancellor Block and VC Gorden commit to sending a letter to endorse dual modality to the Academic Senate 
    • Deadline for the Academic Senate to communicate with DSU what exactly in their policy details the violation of academic freedom through dual modality
    • Chancellor and Vice Chancellor Gorden will draft a letter in support of the Lily Shaw Disability Cultural Center 
  • March 1, 2022:
    • VC Gorden will work with Undergraduate Education and Associate Vice Provost of the Center of the Advancement of Teaching to provide guidance on implementing ADA-compliant closed captioning, including sending guides for turning on auto-captioning on Zoom and uploading lectures through Kaltura notes to access auto-captioning
  • Mid-March 2022:
    • VC Gorden commits to hire additional Center for Accessible Education Specialists 
    • Chancellor has committed to permanent funding for an ADA Compliance Officer and will place the position under EDI, not Student Affairs as it has historically been housed
  • May 31, 2022:
    • Student Affairs will deliver an assessment of longer-term needs for and costs to install audio/visual equipment in classrooms

Although most organizations involved leave satisfied with the commitments and timelines provided by the Vice Chancellor and Chancellor, several of the Disabled Student Union’s key demands remain unmet. Administration has committed band-aid solutions for larger, structural issues, many of which that Academic Senate is in full power to combat.

While moving forward with hiring additional CAE Specialists and an ADA Compliance Officer are wins once completed, administrators face limits in fully endorsing dual-modality because of shared governance with the Academic Senate and the continually shifting goalposts of “academic freedom.”

This idea is weaponized to condemn immunocompromised students to dropping out, in favor of an imaginary standard of education. Our university should ensure access and safety for all students, especially those that are the most vulnerable. The roadblock of “academic freedom” has become a reason for inaction, one we must overcome as we organize faculty in support of remote options. 

We pushed for further responses from the Academic Senate Leadership, who sent us the following set of responses at 10:15 PM last night. While some promises were made to “strongly encourage” faculty to record lectures, livestream for students, and consider attendance policies, we must move beyond urging and encouraging.

We are calling for the bare minimum to ensure equity and access to our education in the middle of a pandemic that may be minimally affecting able-bodied people (though even that is up for debate), but is directly threatening the lives of immunocompromised and disabled people. This is not a matter of faculty choice or individual suggestions toward dual-modality. No one should be shut out of education. 

We understand that individual faculty may be unsure of how to move forward. We reject the notion that it should be up to the individual. The institution should uplift and support students with concrete resources, and when offices and bodies are able to make true commitments to supporting students, we can ensure that the calls for remote learning will not overburden faculty with more work.

The fact of the matter is disabled students need better resources at this university, and this pandemic only made more visible what was already a problem. We plan on taking our current fight both closer to the ground, and to higher levels of administration. We wish to work with faculty who genuinely want to bring these options to their classes, but just do not have the tools to do it.

We wish to bring our demands and arguments to UC-wide governing bodies, as this is not an issue specific to UCLA — other UC disabled students and disabled students across higher education are in the same fight for equitable access. “Academic freedom” seems to only be used selectively, and we want to put a stop to that. Expect us to continue fighting for access and resources at this campus and beyond.

Ableism, anti-Blackness, anti-indigeneity, and racism are intersecting but distinct barriers and systems that affect each of us in distinct ways. We came to administration with distinct fights, but pushed for answers, negotiations, and timelines through an iron will. We may have made mistakes along the way during this sit-in, but we were able to come into the protest with a strong sense of solidarity.

In Lak’ech Ala K’in. I am you, and you are me. We reach our arms out across our community, which has supported us throughout these two weeks. And we reach backward and forward in time, to our predecessors who organized before us, and those who will inherit the fight after. Onward and upward. Thank you for supporting our movement.