Campus Beat Reporter
University of California Student Regent Avi Oved and Student Regent Designate Marcela Ramirez visited the University of California, Santa Barbara campus on Tues., Jan 26. During their visit, they met with several UCSB groups and hosted a town hall geared at recruiting a new student regent and listening to the concerns of students across campus.
The two spent the day meeting with interest groups on campus, ranging from different ethnic and religious minorities to LGBTQ+ representatives. In their short time in Santa Barbara, the pair aimed to better understand the campus climate and what issues students thought needed to be represented at the upcoming Board of Regents meetings. At the Regent Town Hall, held in South Hall, Oved and Ramirez explained their recent work and upcoming plans.
Ramirez, a doctoral candidate in higher education at the University of California, Riverside, will begin her term on July 1, 2016. At the moment, she is working with graduate student groups across the UC system to tackle issues that they face. While there is no specific focus planned yet, she says that she has gotten a broad scope of what needs to be done to improve graduate student life, beginning with diversity.
“There is this notion that grads are the pipeline to the professoriate,” Ramirez said. “We don’t see more professors of color because we’re not investing in grads of color enough.”
Oved, a fifth year economics major at the University of California, Los Angeles, celebrated a victory recently at the January Regents meeting, during which the board unanimously passed a student advisor proposal that will add a third student voice to the meeting table. While only the student regent may vote on official matters, the student regent designate and student advisor will both be in attendance, and work with others to establish new guidelines for running the UC. Oved will also begin working on housing and food insecurity among students, seeking a better fix than UC President Janet Napolitano’s promise to create 14,000 beds in the system by 2020.
“My hope is that we can charge the universities to create a baseline of support that is equitable across the system,” Oved said with regard to pushing the UCs to better support middle-class students. “Often we’re hearing about the students who are using food pantries, living in cars and showering in gyms, pretending to sleep in the library because they need to make it through the night. These are real stories and they’re typically not unique.”
Oved has also worked on a uniform UC Statement Against Intolerance, which has recently become a point of contention on the UCSB campus and in the national discussion about free speech. While the Regents originally drafted a statement at the September 2015 meeting, all those working on it denounced it and called for a stronger statement with clearer principles that reflect what members of the UC want.
At the Regents Town Hall, fourth year political science major Jason Garshfield shared his concerns with the direction that the state of free speech was headed in the UC system.
“When you make a statement in these principles saying that intolerance has no place at the University of California, including within that hate speech, there is no constitutional exception to the First Amendment in regards to hate speech,” Garshfield said. “I think a statement like that has a chilling effect on freedom of expression in the university. As a student advocate whose position was created in the slew of the uprisings of the late 1960s which included the free speech movement, I personally think it’s your responsibility to advocate for these movements.”
Oved said that these issues will be addressed at the March Regents meeting in San Francisco. “We’re not infringing upon academic freedom and freedom of speech — everyone has a right to be racist,” he said. “That’s your God-given right. You could be racist and you can preach that rhetoric. What we do have the ability to do is make the distinction between speech and behavior, and behavior is something actionable. In terms of freedom of speech, the university can exercise its own freedom of speech to distance itself from certain rhetoric.”
UCSB has produced three student regents to date: the inaugural regent, undergraduate Carol Mock (1975-1976, political science) and graduate students Kathryn McClymond (1997-1998, religious studies) and Jesse Bernal (2009-2010, education). The University of California, Los Angeles has produced the most student regents to date (12), while Merced and Santa Cruz have yet to produce a regent. Applications to become the next student regent remain open through the end of February.