By Ilse Atkinson
As the occupation of Mrak Hall continued through its 22nd day Friday afternoon, students rallied in large numbers in support for the “Katehi Ditch Day March and Press Conference.” In what was their largest demonstration yet, student activists continued to voice their demands for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi. The student occupation of the fifth floor of Mrak Hall has continued for the past three weeks, often consisting of 30 or more student occupiers. Friday’s event demonstrated the depth of support beyond these occupiers, as the march and press conference outside Mrak Hall drew a large crowd that later entered the building to occupy the hallways of the third, fourth, and fifth floors of Mrak Hall.
Plans for the rally were publicized earlier in the week, mainly through promotion on campus and online. A banner has been hung on the second story of Wellman Hall that reads, “Fire Katehi 4/1/16 MU noon” and has been highly visible to students all week as Spring quarter classes have resumed. “Fire Katehi” and other slogans have been chalked on the sidewalk and on buildings surrounding the campus quad. Students also disseminated information through a public Facebook event, writing that “we invite you to join us in protest by ditching class at 11:30 AM, meeting us at the MU by 11:45 AM and from there marching to Mrak, where we will be meeting Katehi for her resignation press conference at 12 PM.”
On Sunday, members of the UC Davis community received an email from the campus Office of Strategic Communications that spoke for Chancellor Katehi, saying that “Chancellor Katehi will not attend the protesters’ planned gathering on Friday, April 1, given that the event will not allow for her meaningful participation or the potential for a productive discussion of campus issues,” and assured, “The Chancellor has no plans to resign.”
The Friday demonstration began shortly after 11:30 AM, when a crowd began to gather around the flagpole at the UC Davis Memorial Union. Several students who had come from the Mrak occupation spoke briefly over a megaphone, handed out posters and a few t-shirts, and by 11:45 were encouraging the large crowd to march with them back to Mrak Hall. Students marched en masse from the MU through the quad, chanting loud calls and responses in unison and repeating slogans like “Hey hey! Ho ho! Chancellor Katehi has got to go!”, “Whose university? Our university!” and perhaps most often “What do we want? Resignation! / When do we want it? Now! / And if we don’t get it? Shut it down!”
At around noon, the crowd reached Mrak Hall and the press conference began. On a podium on the steps of Mrak Hall, various students and occupiers, as well as UC Davis faculty and members of the local community, spoke to a large crowd of student demonstrators.
Natalia Deeb-Sossa, an associate professor in the Chicano/a Studies department at UC Davis, spoke to the crowd in support of the student protesters, saying, “As faculty of the University of California, Davis, I stand in solidarity with the students calling for the chancellor’s resignation and occupying Mrak Hall. I am here today to deliver my support for the commitment and seriousness of the students regarding the educational mission of this university. I want to underscore my appreciation for the students who are taking this university, as a social institution, so seriously that they are willing to disrupt their lives and their studies.”
Occupier and organizer Maile Hampton addressed the crowd saying, “I choose as a taxpayer in this city, to say that I will not continue to sit and watch the tax dollars that I work hard for not go towards the students’ education and well-being, but into the hands of the greedy chancellor and the greedy administration that continues to protect her out of pure self interest. This struggle is not new. For years, students and workers have been rising up, doing sit-ins, marches, die-ins, and other forms of non-violent direct actions on campus to fight against tuition hikes, Islamophobia, racism– and here we are today, fighting against the same thing.”
Adilla Jamaludin, who was elected to ASUCD student senate in Fall 2015, spoke in support of fellow students, saying, “Chancellor Katehi has failed me as a student on this campus. Under her leadership, as many others that spoke before me have said, she has silenced victims of sexual assault, she has pepper sprayed student activists, and spoken against ASUCD resolutions. All of this is in addition to her moonlighting activities. Each and every one of those actions is an assault on the integrity of this community and everything that we stand for here today.”
After the long list of speakers was exhausted, student protesters invited the crowd into Mrak Hall, to participate in the occupation. A large portion of the crowd joined in, started to chant, and filed into the building, crowding the hallways and staircases. When the fifth floor, which had been the original location of the occupation, was filled, students took to the fourth and third floor hallways. At around 1:15, a group of students left Mrak Hall and marched towards the Mondavi Center in an unsuccessful attempt to intercept Katehi at a meeting on campus. As assured by the email from administration, Katehi was not present at the press conference, march, or occupation.
Ruben Gil, who also addressed the crowd at the press conference earlier Friday afternoon, was one of the protesters who stayed to continue the occupation of Mrak. He spoke with the Vanguard about his involvement in the student protests. He said, “Katehi prides herself, and has gone on record on the Huffington Post saying that she’s all about diversity, but what does diversity mean if you’re not keeping the students on campus, and if you’re not helping them graduate? We have one of the lowest retention and graduation rates of Latinx students and black students.” He continued, “I’m here saying we need someone who will deliver on those promises.”
Students have continued to occupy Mrak, despite threats of legal or punitive action, and have shown no intention of ending their occupation today. The support expressed from faculty, community members, and fellow students was larger in number than any previous demonstration calling for the resignation of Chancellor Katehi. As of yet, the administration has not responded to the demonstration or met with student protesters.