Photo provided by the Disabled Student Union (DSU), Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC), and Mother Organizations Coalition (MO)
In the Fall quarter of 2021, I covered a student protest led by the Disabled Student Union (DSU). The demands for transparency and clarity over COVID-19 policies and cases on campus, as well as a call for hybrid options, still ring true to the DSU’s current student strike that started on January 31, 2022. This time, however, student leaders across various student-led organizations have come to support the DSU, including the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC), our undergraduate student government, and the Mother Organizations Coalition (MO), a coalition of student groups made up of underrepresented populations on campus.
I got up bright and early in the morning, arriving at the student strike led by DSU, USAC, and the MOs. The sun was out, I was wearing my black The Cure sweater, my jeans were loose, and I carried my phone with me to conduct interviews. I didn’t expect to get super involved, I mostly just came for interviews.
I arrived at 9:00 AM.
By 10:00 AM, I was holding up a sign that said “Hybrid Access Now!” and trying to convince students not to cross the picket line.
The strike was politically charged, accusing the UCLA administration of mishandling their COVID-19 response, a criticism that had been levied against UCLA since the Fall. Many students in my own classes were wary about the return to campus, citing that isolation housing for on-campus residents and university-owned apartments were already at capacity. My own mother contracted COVID-19 at the beginning of January and still hadn’t fully recovered. I was wary about catching COVID-19 as well despite being vaxxed and boosted.
At around 12:00 PM, we made our way to Murphy Hall.
Interestingly enough, none of the Chancellors were in their offices, having the option to work from home while many of the student body was not afforded the same choice. Not only was this frustrating, but it infuriated me and reignited a lot of my anger against the university.
To them, I was merely social capital. Like most underrepresented students who came to UCLA, we were the admin’s brownie points for diversity, even though they steered clear of helping us when our retention rates fell. Throughout the pandemic, and even during the George Floyd protests, UCLA showed us that they do not care about us. It was difficult to quell my anger in the midst of the strike because, for the last three years, I’d been gaslit by the admin’s transgressions.
Clear-cut demands were laid out by student leaders, who merged their interests together to finally gain accountability from the admin on several issues. The main demand was for universal access, but along with that demand was also a call for accountability for the Community Programs Office and its director’s mistreatment of funds and workers by the MO Coalition, more funding and resources for the Black Bruin Resource Center by the Afrikan Student Union, visibility for the Indigenous organizations, tribes, and students on campus by the American Indian Student Association, and more demands asking for the administration to take our concerns seriously.
By 1:00 PM, we were sitting in Murphy Hall.
I have a personal vendetta against the pandemic. Both my parents got COVID-19 at the beginning of January, but my mother, who is already disabled, faced the brunt of the transmissible illness. She still hasn’t fully recovered, facing complications with her heart and other organs despite following instructions from her doctor. My brother got COVID-19 sometime in August, and it took him months to recover. I didn’t want to face that, nor did I want others to face that. People of color and disabled / immunocompromised people (and especially disabled people of color) have faced disparities because of the pandemic.
In my own classes, we had discussions about how our communities weren’t handling the pandemic well, that we were worried for the safety of our loved ones. How those of us with asthma and other comorbidities were afraid for our own safety. Peers who worked in housing told us that on the Hill, COVID-19 was spreading quickly, isolation housing was full, and UCLA had to start using newly built apartments as isolation rooms. We had been gaslit the last two years, told that everything was fine when it wasn’t! How could we not be worried about COVID-19?
On Monday, I spoke to a student at the sit-in about how they felt.
Bones Zukovski, a third-year south campus and pre-med student active in the Young Democratic Socialists of America, spoke to me about their feelings on the protest. When asked about the campus’s reopening, Zukovski described it as a “rush-job.”
“Officials are saying it’s safe to [re-open] if we’re following testing, masking, and vaccine requirements. But as someone who is amongst this student body and faculty body, it’s apparent that we are not following those recommendations or requirements. Therefore, it is not safe to go back for most people. It’s a complete joke.”
When asked about the sit-in, Zukovski said they felt “empowered knowing that my fellow peers and student body are out here protesting for the hybrid option.”
Many students felt similarly. Dozens of students were at the sit-in and continued to occupy Murphy Hall for over two weeks.
On Wednesday, February 2nd, I talked with Breeze Velazquez, the USAC president. She was very insightful and willing to discuss the future of the strike with me.
She gave me a brief rundown on how USAC and the MOs got involved in the protest after I told her that I attended the DSU protest last quarter and saw there weren’t as many students then. She explained that a member of the DSU had reached out to USAC, who then elevated DSU’s message, and that’s when the MOs got involved as well.
“Any time anything has gotten done at the university, it’s when student groups have gotten together,” Velazquez asserted, emphasizing the amount of solidarity shown across different student groups for the strike. “People are together this time.”
I asked her about the meetings she would eventually have with Vice Chancellor Monroe Gorden Jr. and Chancellor Gene Block and whether or not the demands from student groups would be met.
“I mean, honestly, no. The receipt [from our first meeting with administration] sent [Tuesday] when DSU asked, was basically like that… I was like, okay, so you’re getting this option but you’re still gonna allow academic freedom, whatever that means, to your professors. I told them yesterday, ‘thank you for this, we look forward to hearing from you on Thursday and Gene Block on Friday, we’re staying at least until Friday. But again, if demands are not met, then we’re staying here. You know where to find us until [the administration] has some solutions.’”
The student strike was a display of student power. It inspired many. I remember texting all the group chats I was in that the sit-in was still happening.
Thursday and Friday passed. There were many things that the Chancellors pledged. For disabled students, Vice Chancellor Gorden committed to creating an accommodations process for those not affiliated with the Center for Accessible Education (CAE) if they needed remote options, hiring a new ADA compliance officer and CAE specialists as soon as possible under the EDI office, and hiring fellow OutWrite staff and DSU member Christopher Ikonomou as a student representative for future accessibility concerns. For Black students, the Vice Chancellor committed to monthly meetings with ASU leadership to get feedback on how Student Affairs can better help Black students.
None of the things promised, however, were universal access to hybrid options, the main demand behind the strike.
After more meetings and several revisions in the following near week and a half, students felt satisfied with the demands met and vacated Murphy Hall on February 16th, making this action the longest sit-in in UCLA’s history. While students are no longer sitting in, this was a demonstration of student power and how to wield it for good.
Quick bonus round of updates that show the administration’s lack of transparency and awareness of its disabled and BIPOC communities!
- The entire Matthew Harris situation which had everyone on edge three weeks ago!
- UCPD surveilling Black and Brown students several times the last few weeks despite the traumas that surround them (Defund and abolish the UCPD while we’re at it!)
- Threats of a white supremacist rally on Monday, February 14th, which was specifically targeting AAPI students!
- The administration sending out an email saying they support disabled students’ right to accommodations while still denying access to universal hybrid access
Author: Judah C (They/Them)
Copy Editors: Brooke Borders (She/Her), Bella (She/They)