Tide of activism ebbs, flows on campus

For 10 days CSUN student activists went without food, only consuming water, fruit and vegetable juice three times a day waiting for a list of demands to be met.

Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, another group of students set up tents on the lawn in front of the Oviatt Library to educate the campus on the political process, national wealth inequality and corporatism.

These are just two of the ways that student activism took form in the past year at CSUN. But the university has a legacy of activism and, at times, political turmoil going as far back as the ‘60s.

Before June 1972, when CSUN was still known as San Fernando Valley State College in the ‘60s and ‘70s, students held large protests, rallies and acts of civil disobedience. It was primarily African-American students in the Black Student Union that lead and took over the administration building, protesting for an increase in minority enrollment and staff on campus among other issues.

It was those students’ efforts that lead to an increase in the number of minorities enrolled and the creation of the Pan-African and Chicano/a studies departments.

“The activism was really great but it was something that you smelled in the air, not only saw it physically but you felt it—change,” said David Rodriguez, Chicano/a studies professor who was a CSUN student in 1971.

Although that rebellious spirit has drastically reduced, many groups and students are still active on campus.

Students for Quality Education (SQE) organized the liquids-only hunger strike in May with four CSUN students, collaborating with eight surrounding California State University students. The students went 10 days without solid food, waiting for a list of demands to be met by the board of trustees.

The demands included a five-year moratorium on tuition, reverting salaries to 1999 levels to proportionally match with current CSU funding levels, eliminating the chancellor and presidents’ perks, such as housing and car allowances, and extending free speech zones on campuses.

Occupy CSUN took a different course of action by setting up tents on campus. Activists engaged students on educational and political issues in hopes of spreading awareness and to get students engaged in the political process.

“A lot of students became aware and empowered by it because they started realizing ‘wait, things are wrong and they need to be fixed,’” said Sarah Garcia, 19, hunger striker, junior deaf studies major and education senator for Associated Students.

Occupy CSUN activists consider it a success to have gotten younger people involved and interested in the political process.

“There are neighborhood council elections going on this year and there were at least a dozen candidates organized throughout the valley on a unified slate across eight elections, and that was put together by Occupy CSUN activists,” said Jeff Woodruff, 34, senior history major who was part of Occupy CSUN.

Students also said the commuter nature of the campus was one reason why they did not know about the activist efforts.

“For me, if it’s not from parking lot B2 to Sierra Hall and the quad, I won’t know about it. I’ll be completely ignorant, so I get that–because we all have stuff to do,” Woodruff said.

For professor Rodriguez it was not much of a surprise to hear that students on campus are not aware or don’t support student activism. That also happened in the Valley State days, he said.

“In the ‘60s and ‘70s although it was obviously in your face some people still denied it or marginalized it. Especially in the majority of the population that was white, middle class privileged students. Not all of them embraced the activism here,” Rodriguez said.

Rodolfo Acuna, professor emeritus and founding chair of the Chicano/a studies department, described the current state of student activism on campus as terrible.

According to Acuna it’s not that students don’t care about the issues, instead it’s a lack of information.

“They care, they just don’t know about (the issues),” Acuna said.  “If they were better informed on what’s affecting them (they’d be more involved)….why do you have the occupy Wall Street movement? Because people can’t get jobs. Why did people protest the Vietnam War? Because it was affecting them. So it has to affect them.”

If student activist want to get the student body more involved in activism they have to politicize them, according to Acuna.

“Get out and politicize them,” Acuna said. “There’s a reason why you see so many Latinos out in demonstrations. It’s because we helped to politicize them.”