understanding community x university relations through
Ava Guihama Olson
American Studies 102:
UC Berkeley + American Culture
Prof. Sarah Gold McBride
from dust to dust...
People’s Park, occupying most of the block between Haste, Dwight, Bowditch, and Telegraph, is contested territory. Technically speaking, the land is owned by the University of California and has been since 1967, but the University has contributed very little to the development and maintenance of the land over the past six decades.
Instead, People’s Park has been cared for by community members. Currently, the Park boasts a community kitchen, a garden, a stage, and a bustling community of people and their pets.
whose land is it anyway?
People's Park, like all of Berkeley, exists on stolen xučyun Ohlone Land. Ohlone speaking people continue to fight for their right to exist and their claim to sacred sites in the Berkeley area, such as the West Berkeley Shellmound.
THROUGH THE YEARS
From the Morrill Act to the fight for People's Park that continues to this day, the University of California has demonstrated its assertion of ownership over the land it occupies. To look at the above images and think that the National Guard was called in because the University needed to build an intramural soccer field is absurd. Of course, it was never really about the soccer field—it was about the University maintaining its hegemony over the free thought of students, the inconvenient activists of the 1960s, and the Black and Indigenous people disenfranchised by the University's very existence.
The contrast between the two types of images highlighted above—of communities that build and apparatuses of the state that destroy—highlight the different goals of the organizers and the University. Though the University conceptually considers itself a knowledge-producing institution that ultimately benefits society, this knowledge is built on exploitation, and that framework of exploitation lashes out when criticized. It was this lashing out that killed James Rector and critically injured several hundred more.
It's fundamentally revealing that the University, with its billions of dollars in endowments, could view a half-block patch of grass and flowers as a threat worthy of the national guard. What kind of institution sees a community garden as a reason to kill? If this philosophy is present in the administration, how has it permeated the curriculum of UC Berkeley's classes? Moreover, what do we do when we are reckoning with this ugliness?
WHO CARES ABOUT THE PARK ANYWAY?
As the People's Park Committee states, "Build[ing] a student housing high-rise on the park this year would destroy a historical landmark, gentrify a historically Black neighborhood, leave the Southside neighborhood without any public free space, and displace unhoused residents who currently rely on the park."
The University's commitment to profit means that, year after year, Berkeley accepts more students than it can support, to the detriment of all students and the greater Berkeley community. Even if the University expands availability of student housing, other student needs are lacking—mental health resources, advising, and necessary classes.
Expanding student housing also increases transplants to the Bay Area that drive rents to unsustainable and unaffordable levels for longtime Berkeley residents. Even if the University incorporates the unhoused community into their development plans, the development itself will still continue to exacerbate the displacement of longtime Bay Area residents as a whole.
Already, the plans to temporarily house Park residents in the Rodeway Inn have proven disrespectful at best and dangerous at worst. Though the University has made attempts to quell student resistance by demonstrating basic support for the unhoused community, these failures demonstrate that that's all the University intended them to do—quell resistance long enough to invisibilize the problem.
THE RODEWAY INN PROJECT'S FAILURES
Strict curfews forbid residents from re-entering their rooms beyond a certain hour. If residents return to the Inn even 5 minutes after curfew, they are locked out for the night and forbidden from accessing medication, warm clothes/shoes, or blankets. One resident was not allowed to change her colostomy bag due to curfew.
At least one resident has died of an overdose as a result of this policy, after he was denied access to his room and a safe place to use.
Food in the Rodeway Inn is described by residents as "inedible," and many compare it to food they received while incarcerated.
Rodeway staff maintain keys to each room and enter Residents' rooms at random intervals without warning or notice, denying residents privacy.
A resident who suffered multiple seizures was left alone in their room by Rodeway staff.
Rodeway staff have misplaced master keys to residents' rooms, resulting in at least one sexual assault of a resident, and several burglaries. Staff did not disclose that keys had been misplaced, leaving residents unaware of extra measures to take to protect their property.
Another resident, who used pepper spray to protect herself from an assault taking place in her room, was evicted from the Inn when Rodeway staff were inadvertently harmed by the pepper spray.