The history of advocacy at UC Davis

Published: The California Aggie. February 2, 2017.


 

At the Memorial Union, the eyes of important global and local activists gaze upon passersby to remind them that UC Davis students of both past and present have felt compelled to advocate for change. “The Unfinished Dream,” a mural at the MU which depicts multicultural art pieces like Greek and Egyptian busts alongside portraits of activists such as Harriet Tubman, was commissioned in 1991 to celebrate diversity and acknowledge the importance of activism.

“We wanted [to convey] that things were not perfect, that one always has to keep agitating and going forward,” said Kim Anno, an artist who co-created the mural. “This idea of a utopian society, where all people sit around a table, is not yet achieved. We wanted to make something that was triumphant.”

UC Davis’ history is deeply characterized by student-led movements. A 1969 protest which confronted then Chancellor James Meyer in regards to the excessive use of police force at People’s Park was attended by his own children. The 1969 March for Peace at Sacramento, organized by UC Davis, was attended by 6,000 to 8,000 people. In 1970, the Rally on the Quad for Vietnam involved the planting of 500 white crosses, symbolizing war deaths, which were subsequently uprooted and carried to then Chancellor Meyer to demand that the university cut ties with the war effort. After the Kent State shootings and the deployment of US troops in Cambodia, two molotov cocktails were thrown at the UC Davis Reserve Officers’ Training Corps building.

Student gathered in the ‘80s and ‘90s to protest against Apartheid in South Africa, the first war in Iraq, sexism and racism and in support of Affirmative Action. In 1989, students protested the presence of Robert Bork, the rejected Supreme Court Justice nominee who opposed federal anti-segregation laws, who came for a university-funded campus event.

“What the demonstration [showed] to the university leadership and the greater community was that people were not going to be silent and let their rights be squashed to protect the rights of others,” said class of ‘93 graduate William Schlitz, who was involved in the protest. “Just because you have your rights and I have my rights doesn’t mean asking for my rights infringes on your rights. I tell people, ‘What the nation is experiencing now, California went through in the ‘80s and ‘90s.’”

Four students in 1990 began a water-only Hunger Strike which lasted six days and called for an investigation into alleged racism in the Spanish Department against native Spanish speakers, the establishment of an on-campus ethnic and cultural center and the increase of full-time ethnic studies faculty members. Andrea Gaytan, one of the four hunger-strikers and now the director of the AB540 and Undocumented Student Center, said that the effect of the strike was greater than the granting of the three demands.

“The whole gist of the protest […] was really the mobilization and awakening of the community,” Gaytan said. “Afterwards, […] we had a humongous coalition for the anti-war movement. When we had the anti-fee hike protest, students and the campus community mobilized faster. We had members of the community and staff and faculty […who] became more widely-known as advocates and allies for students.”

Shortly after the Hunger Strike, the Office of Student Affairs and the Campus Art in Public Places Work Group decided to commission a piece of art that would both celebrate achievements and inspire further advocacy. This piece became “The Unfinished Dream.”

“The demand and the desire to have a mural was part of showing an unfinished dream [for] real equity and international respect and collaboration,” said Miranda Bergman, who co-created the mural alongside Anno. “[The mural] was combatting Eurocentrism in education and also remembering and honoring both students from the school and people throughout history who took that step to stand up for equality.”

Today, Gaytan said she sees a large difference in modern UC Davis student activism versus the activism of 1988 to ‘92, when she was a student. The AB540 and Undocumented Student center she directs is the result of student advocacy.

“Watching the students originally organize and […] write a plan and proposal for this AB540 Center was so different from what my experience had been,” Gaytan said. “It’s been really full-circle. Davis has made a lot of progress, just for Davis, but we’ve made even more progress compared to other universities in California and across the country. I feel extremely proud of what we’re doing now.”

More recent movements include the Occupy UC Davis movement over tuition hikes, during which students were pepper-sprayed by police. Evan Loker, a 2012 graduate who was involved in the Occupy movement, said that this event resulted in a mobilization similar to what Gaytan described after the 1990 Hunger Strike.

“What made Occupy unique from other cycles of political resistance was that it localized these new connections and energies into a particular territory – traditional political actions like marches and pickets taking place alongside micro-political processes […like] building relationships alongside ideologies and strategies,” Loker said. “The UC movement and Occupy shared a set of political concerns, symbols and tactics [which] created a set of common experiences and images that offered many millennials and older folks an entrance into radical politics.”

Just last year, the Fire Katehi movement resulted in the resignation of former Chancellor Linda Katehi. Even more recently, student protests manifested in regards to the highly controversial scheduled appearance of alt-right Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos, who came accompanied by entrepreneur Martin Shkreli via invitation from the Davis College Republicans (DCR).

“We decided to host Milo in order to allow our fellow students the opportunity to hear about ideas, policies and theories that may be entirely alien to their background,” said Deborah Porter, a fourth-year biological systems engineering major and political director for DCR. “We had hoped that liberals alongside conservatives would attend Milo’s talk with the purpose of pondering his ideas, asking difficult questions and promoting UC Davis as a place where we challenge the ideas set before us rather than blindly accepting them.”

2016 graduate Eric Gudz, who provided support and assistance to protesters who led to the cancellation of the event, said he is opposed to the presence of “hatred and bigotry” and campus.

[Not] having the platform for that speech is not the same as losing your right to be able to conduct free speech,” Gudz said. “[I] wanted to show my support and solidarity to resisting and voicing my concerns over what I see [is the] proliferation of hateful and fearful rhetoric that is becoming more […] normalized in our communities. This provides other communities an example of how [they] can be powerful enough to really counter the spread of hate that’s happening and demonstrate that everybody has that ability to be able to […] stand up for what they believe in and what they know is right […] for the community.”

One day after the cancelled speech, Yiannopoulos and Shkreli returned to campus for a free-speech countermarch, during which the 2011 pepper-spraying incident was reenacted using silly string. The “Shkrelopoulos” event is reminiscent of past UC Davis histories, given that it directly referenced recent student movements and was extremely similar in character to speaker-related protests like the 1989 Robert Bork controversy. According to Porter and the DCR, the re-enactment “especially reiterated” their rights.

“Just as the Occupy protesters had a right to be there, so did we. It doesn’t matter the material they discuss, they have a right to peacefully do it,” Porter said.

According to the UC Davis Policy and Procedure Manual, anybody may exercise first amendment rights, including free speech, on all public university grounds. Symbolic structures are permitted at a designated site on the quad meant for “symbolic speech,” but all acts of civil disobedience are not condoned. Though the manual acknowledges that civil disobedience has played a historic role at UC Davis, it is not Constitutionally protected.

For those looking to get involved in the future of activism on campus, Gudz said he recommends that students join established groups and organizations first before launching their own movement.

“Organizing in this era is going to be critical to move things forward,” Gudz said. “A good first place to start is to check in with those pre-existing activism groups. One of the big keys for activism [and] advocacy going forward is that these struggles are intersectional whether we want to realize them or not. The struggles of all these different groups are […] intertwined and they must be treated as such to be able to advance the causes forwards.”

Teaching Togetherness

Published: The California Aggie. January 26, 2017. Viewable here.


 

After becoming interested in yoga her senior year of high school, fourth-year clinical nutrition major Megan Settles decided to complete the 200 hours of training needed to become a yoga instructor. Settles, who now teaches yoga classes at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC), said the activity has significantly changed her for the better.

“[During] your first sun salutation […] you’ll probably feel a little tight and not super relaxed,” Settles said. “Once you do a million of them, you’re going to feel better. [You will feel] a sense of strength in your body which will [allow] you to feel strength outside of class. Feeling good can bring out […] confidence. It has this domino effect. You feel really powerful and lifted up.”

On and off campus, students and faculty are engaging others in wellness activities as a means to self-improve and create communal bonds. One pioneer of this is Stacey Brezing, the director for the UC Davis Staff and Faculty Health and Wellbeing Program. Brezing and two student assistants use a small budget and pre-existing resources to organize wellness activities for the campus community.

The upcoming Mindfulness Meditation series, a four week class starting January 31 which will be offered at the Mondavi Center, is one such activity aimed at increasing wellbeing.

“Going back to work after meditation, [staff and faculty are] a little more resilient, [and] able to handle more,” Brezing said. “It [also] decreases stress levels.”

Another event, the 4-part Lunchtime Gentle Yoga series, had 50 slots available and sold out in 20 minutes, Brezing said, with another 70 on the waitlist. From this high demand came the inception of the Meditation Ambassadors and Wellness Ambassadors program. The Meditation Ambassadors program trains those interested in meditation so that they can provide meditation to their colleagues, whereas a Wellness Ambassador is a voluntary position in which volunteers promote wellness activities.
“Especially with [the] Wellness Ambassadors, they can do something as simple as passing on the word about what’s happening on campus,” Brezing said. “It’s kind of a grassroots effort to promote stress reduction and wellbeing.”

According to Brezing, data from surveys given after the meditation series in the fall showed that 94 percent of those in attendance felt their health had improved, 97 percent felt their wellbeing had improved and 83 percent felt their work performance improved following the series.

Engaging in wellness activities can be an individual experience, but can oftentimes shape and create new bonds.

Wellness activities can definitely be communal,” Brezing said. “A lot of groups get together and knit, color, play four square, meditate, bring in group exercise instructors, et cetera. The social aspect of these activities can really help motivate people to make long-term behavior changes. It also increases employee morale.”

One drawback in seeking out wellness activities such as yoga classes is the typical cost associated with involvement. Yoga classes at the ARC can range from around $50 to $70. Due to their own passions for yoga and the desire to bring it to students, fourth-year clinical nutrition major Athena LeMay and fourth-year food science and technology major Ana Skomal co-founded the UC Davis Yoga Club.

“The Yoga Club offers free classes and workshops every week,” LeMay said. “We have guest teachers and provide a variety of all sorts of yoga styles. We have worked with sororities […] and the new Manetti Shrem Museum [on their] opening day. The Yoga Club also offers hikes for building community and relationships with fellow yogis.”

With almost 300 “yogis,” or members, on their Facebook page, the Yoga Club’s activities are addressing the student demand. However, Skomal said that they aim to provide more than just yoga.

“The simple mission of the Yoga Club is to provide a safe community for students to relax, meet new people and practice the art of meditation and yoga for free,” Skomal said. “For being a fairly new club, I believe we have engaged many students to start and continue their yoga journey in the midst of the college environment. Each yoga class or workshop is beginner-friendly and all levels are welcome.”

In addition to the Yoga Club, Skomal has sought out additional ways to teach others about yoga. In addition to instructing donation-based yoga classes at a studio in Davis, in which all proceeds went to Wind Youth Services for homeless youth, Skomal also taught mindfulness and meditation classes at the Center Against Sexual Harm in Oak Park.

“I made a commitment to continue on my path of yoga outreach,” Skomal said. [I want to] create a community within the UC Davis campus where yoga is available to all students who are interested in starting and continuing their yoga journey.”

Maria West teaches a variety of yoga classes, including several at the ARC. West taught yoga at the Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodland and says yoga can bring personal growth and much-needed reflection.

“The practice of yoga encourages letting go of thoughts that do not serve you,” West said. “I remind my students [that] this is where [they] are today […and] nothing is permanent, so tomorrow might be different. Tomorrow, [they] just might be more steady in this pose, or not. We’re all trying to do our best. Yoga is also the unfolding experience of humility.”

Both Skomal and West share a passion to use their yoga expertise as a way to give back to the community.

“Initially, it was not my intention to teach, [but] after I taught my first class, I was hooked,”  West said. “There’s something about teaching that feels like a privilege – [a] privilege to serve and give back, to encourage, to break through walls and help someone feel good, not just about their body but about themselves.”

Brezing said that after meditation or other engagements in wellness exercises, workers are invigorated. Similarly, Settles said that over the course of the ten-week period she spends teaching yoga to students at the ARC, she sees a definite change. A change which brings positive results.

“If you can find five minutes to lay or sit and meditate […] just with yourself and try and focus on your breath […], I feel like that would have so many benefits on this campus,” Settles said. “I think an awesome aspect of [yoga] is community. We’re not all like-minded […] but we’re all here, together, in that time, practicing the same thing. There’s such a powerful, almost magical, experience to just feel so connected to so many people.”

Meet the Meat Lab

Published: The California Aggie. January 24, 2017. Viewable here.


 

As a second-generation butcher, Caleb Sehnert’s roots have been in the meat industry since before he was born. Sehnert works with and teaches students how to humanely slaughter and process animals for consumption as part of his job as the manager of the UC Davis Meat Lab.

“I really, really like my job,” Sehnert said. “It’s a really rewarding and fun job. I get to work with our researchers and facility managers when they bring animals in and help collect certain tissues and data, [I] get to teach the whole process of slaughter and processing to our students and then I get to help our students prepare it all and sell it to our customers.”

Serving a multitude of functions, the Meat Lab is equipped with a kill floor, processing and cutting rooms and classrooms where students in classes such as animal science 49G (ANS 49G) learn the entire process of meat production. A part of the Department of Animal Science, the Meat Lab has been processing and selling fresh, local meat to the community since the 90’s and is the only one of its kind in the UC system.

Krista Leili-Marrazzo, a fourth-year animal science student, is a self-proclaimed butcherette who has a close relationship with the handful of other student workers and interns at the Meat Lab.

“We spend a lot of time together because if we’re not in class, we’re probably at work,” Leili-Marrazzo said. “I’ve learned so much more than I thought I was going to at this job, so that has been really rewarding.”

Similarly, fourth-year sustainable agriculture and food systems major Geoff Koch, who worked at the Meat Lab for about nine months, said his experience was both enjoyable and extremely rewarding.

“I don’t come from a farming background, so it was another way that I [learned] a whole lot about what it takes to get food to our plates,” Koch said. “I had a really excellent experience working at the Meat Lab. I made some really good friends and I got to be involved in a lot of events on campus with the Animal Science Department.”

Yearly, the Meat Lab processes a total of 600 to 800 cows, pigs, goats and sheep, all of which are raised at UC Davis. Weekly sales are Thursday and Friday from 1:00 to 5:30 p.m. in the Cole C Facility. Additionally, meat products are also ordered by restaurants from the community, departments on campus, local butcher shops and, occasionally, the dining commons.

“We do sell to campus catering quite often when they do events,” Sehnert said. “The G Street WunderBar in Downtown Davis [uses] our bacon, ground beef and pastrami on some of their burgers and sandwiches. We also sell lots of carcasses to other local butchers [because] they know they can get fresh, consistent, good animals here.”

In addition to sales, the Meat Lab workers also compete with the five other collegiate meat labs in the state at the annual California Association of Meat Processors (CAMP) competition. Leili-Marrazzo, who was awarded the CAMP scholarship, said that each student is allowed to enter a sausage that they have created which follows the CAMP requirements for that year.  Last February, the UC Davis Meat Lab took home top honors and student-specific awards.

“Each year there’s a different requirement for the sausage, so last year we had to have a pale ale in it […but] this year it’s an Italian sausage,” Leili-Marrazzo said. “I know in past years they’ve had to have an apple ingredient or a weird candy, so this year is not too bad. We’ll spend about a month experimenting and perfecting our own sausages. If you win the award, [then] something you invented won.”

Last year, second-year managerial economics student Denelle Flake was awarded grand champion for her sausage, “The Bangkok Banger.”

“The annual convention provides great networking opportunities with potential employers and fellow college students,” Flake said. “It opens your eyes to the many components of the meat industry.”

The Meat Lab sales room is covered with plaques, noting the many achievements from students of the past and present. However, the most important factor to workers at the Meat Lab is that the livestock is cared for and eventually slaughtered in as a humane way as possible. Sehnert said that most people are not aware that an inspector from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is present for every slaughter.

“All these animals are very well taken care of at our facilities,” Sehnert said. “Our inspectors are always complimenting us on how healthy our animals are, so we’re pretty proud of that. Without humane handling, if you’re not handling the animals properly, you’re going to have a poor product.”

Involvement at the Meat Lab, in classes such as ANS 49G, allows students to receive a hands-on interaction with the entire meat production process. Leili-Marrazzo said she thinks that the opportunity for hands-on learning clears away misconceptions about the meat processing industry.

“I think it’s cool for students to see that everything is done very humanely and the animals [are] really taken care of beforehand and even during the slaughter process,”  Leili-Marrazzo said. “I like [for] students to have that realization of, ‘Oh, this isn’t such a terrible industry and the animals aren’t suffering.’”

Student workers at the Meat Lab are often working while ANS 49G students use the facilities for class. Koch said that while he worked to process meat, students in classes would observe and absorb practical information.

“We get the opportunity to teach by showing what we know,” Koch said. “I got the opportunity to relay the knowledge I had in the short time I was there to some students, but I was also learning myself. You learn by experience.”

According to Koch, every Thursday and Friday when the Meat Lab is open for business, the lines stretch out the door. Sehnert said there are dedicated customers that come every week, rain or shine. But for Sehnert, the Meat Lab is not about profit.

“We’re not really here to make money or lose money,” Sehnert said. “Everything that we sell or produce here is a byproduct of teaching and research.”

Additionally, Leili-Marrazzo said she thinks many students are not aware the Meat Lab exists.

“It’s on campus, it’s so close and I think more people should know about it,” Leili-Marrazzo said. “It’s a nice way to get really local and fresh meat and it’s very humanely slaughtered and processed and we’re really proud of what we do. It’s like the hidden gem of Davis.”