UC Berkeley is historically known for protesting against the status quo, and this tradition continues today. Late last month, almost 100 students from the Queer Alliance Resource Center (QARC) stood arm in arm in front of Sather Gate, a main transit point within the university, forcing students to find alternative routes to make it to their classes. Several controversies have sprung up in midst of the protest, including a video of Sather Gate where protesters can be seen letting students of color pass through the gate, while white students were prevented from doing so. Later on in the protest, QARC made their way through different buildings within the university, causing some non-participating students to complain that they were disturbing their ability to study and learn.
QARC was unhappy with the space the university had assigned for their meetings, and were demanding a new location. The university had offered three different choices, but QARC and its members had rejected all offers, claiming that their space should be in the ASUC Senate and Student store, and that the university should renegotiate their contract with the bookstore. The university has denied this request, which made QARC claim that the school was prioritizing profit over student needs.
Observing the protest from across the Bay, the Foghorn acknowledges that the demands of students are ever-increasingly complex. As students of a smaller student body, we’re accustomed to smaller class sizes, smaller organization sizes, and consequently smaller meeting spaces. Since UC Berkeley has a much larger student population, they should have ample resources to meet the needs of their community. The QARC students who were protesting had legitimate demands in this regard.
The organization requires privacy as it offers confidential resources and a safe space to not only Berkeley students, but K-12 students from the surrounding area. They cannot be crammed into the same university center space with other student orgs, or any other high-traffic meeting space, because it seriously undermines the effectiveness of their organization. In this respect, the Foghorn sympathizes with QARC’s request for a space that would meet their standards.
The Foghorn simultaneously sees the disruption of student learning as an attempt to cause an impact. If a Black Lives Matter protest blocks a bridge or a highway, their modus operandi is not to get observers to like them, but rather acknowledge the situation at hand, and in QARC’s case, one can see the clear parallels. For those students who did not know of QARC’s existence, or did not know about the university’s choice in denying QARC a certain space, this protest offered an opportunity for the student body to become aware of the situation.
Where the Foghorn does take objection to the protests is in the style in which it was done. Where there can be a measured amount of appreciation in shedding light on the everyday struggles of people of color, the protesters have alienated themselves from who they claim to be: a minority of society who accepts others and promotes equality.
Restricting freedoms to any group is not an effective way of protesting. In this way, protestors share similarities with the very people they are protesting against. QARC members could have potentially been mistaken in their restrictions, as white queer students would be barred from going through Sather Gate, effectively contradicting the message of the organization. In addition, as one member of our editorial team responded, “I’m half-Asian, but… I look white. In all honesty, if I were a Berkeley student, I mostly likely would have just silently taken my place with the other students crossing the creek; but I also would’ve felt misunderstood and confused given the fact that I’d still be stuck in this limbo between having experience/empathy with discrimination and being viewed as the problem.”
The students within QARC, with their legitimate concerns regarding their request of a proper space, find themselves criticized by members of the student body for disrupting the learning environment, while also restricting the passageway of certain students based on their race. For QARC’s demands to be taken seriously, their style of protesting merely needs to be tweaked. It is crucial UC Berkeley students be cognisant of the political issues on their campus. Awareness is a key tool for change, but in order for it to occur, protestors must be willing to craft a message that unites all students.