Approximately 500 UC Davis students demonstrated their dissatisfaction with university leadership the afternoon of Nov. 19 outside the Surge II building on campus. Their protest truncated a press conference addressing the Nov. 18 police response to the Occupy UC Davis encampment.
“Whose university?” one student chanted, demanding entry into the closed conference. “Our university!” the crowd shouted back.
At 4 p.m., when the conference began, news trucks were already on the scene, capturing footage of the students rallying to various cries.
“Cops off campus!” students shouted.
The crowd assembled outside the door of the Surge II building, where UC Davis senior public information representative Andy Fell barred the students from entry. The majority of the students formed a thick chain around the building, while others climbed trees to document the event with cell phones and cameras.
“Take responsibility!” students shouted, pounding on the wall of the building. University officials would not let students inside because of limited space. Students demanded that the conference be moved across the street so that “we can all participate!”
The protesters called for victims of the Nov. 18 pepper spraying incident to step forward to attempt to enter the conference.
The crowd parted as UCD freshman Ian Le, who was pepper sprayed the day before, stepped forward but was denied entry. He quickly left the scene of the protest.
“I can’t handle emotion,” Le said, tearing up.
Inside, off a small office hallway, was the private press conference. Chancellor Linda Katehi, along with UCD police chief Annette Spicuzza, both delivered statements about the pepper spraying incident.
“This was a decision that was made by the command at the scene, and that’s why were going to review it per our policy, as a use of force […] to determine whether or not we made all the right decisions, and handled it the way we should have handled it,” Spicuzza said.
Katehi emphasized that the review would be independent and objective, holding the issue “at arm’s length.”
“We always hope that students will follow the appropriate policies,” Katehi said. “Policies exist to allow 60,000 people to use this campus effectively and safely.”
The ensuing question-and-answer portion of the press conference was cut short, after the students managed to push their way inside the hallway outside of the press conference, still demanding inclusion. Following this, there was confusion about the whereabouts of Katehi: some, including one media network, believed Katehi had been secretly evacuated from the building. Other students, who firmly held to the belief that Katehi was still inside, screamed: “The media lies!” and insisted on protesting at the door until Katehi came out.
In the time it took the media to leave the press conference room, Katehi and Spicuzza had both left the room by a side entrance, but remained inside the building.
The crowd exited the building onto the other side. A brief meeting was held, informally led by a senior linguistics major who identified himself as Tom. He asked the group, “Is there anywhere else we can hold this conference?” It was eventually decided that the group would walk over to the nearby Craft Center. Students began to walk towards the UCD Silo buildings, past the parking lot for the Surge II building. However, the crowd turned into the parking lot.
The police were on the scene, but stood off to the periphery of the protest. Regardless, their presence was met with much hostility. “We are peaceful, you are not!” students shouted in protest of Katehi’s methods.
“After what happened yesterday, to call the police again is an act of violence!” one protester shouted to the group, a chant that was repeated like all the others in a call-and-response fashion.
The focus of the protesters’ desires quickly shifted from relocating and extending the press conference to demanding that Katehi exit the building amidst the restless crowd. The protesters were determined to watch Katehi leave Surge II in what one protester called a “walk of shame.”
Linking arms and continuing to stand, students formed a wide pathway from the side door that media had used to gain entrance to the press conference, which was consistently being manned by at least one UCD staff member. The door was presumed to be the way by which Katehi would exit.
Protesters insisted that the situation was “safe” and that the chancellor was free to leave via the pathway the students formed any time she desired. Students strove to keep the path clear of fellow students and media reporters to demonstrate the relative orderliness of the protest, and to encourage the chancellor’s exit. Students promised that if Katehi left, “we will not touch her!”
“The world is watching,” the crowd shouted simultaneously. “We’re nonviolent!”
After the excitement of the initial minutes gave way to over an hour, protesters began to question whether Katehi, and others they believed to be remaining inside the building, had in fact already exited.
“I propose that groups go to all the other doors, to make sure that this is the door she leaves by,” one protester proposed to the other protesters. Groups were sent to stake out other potential exits to ensure that Katehi had not exited, and would not exit, without the crowd’s knowledge.
Unbeknownst to the protesters, Katehi did in fact remain inside the building, holding a staff meeting in a cubicle off of the same tight hallway as the press conference room. Outside, impatient students heatedly chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Katehi’s gotta go!”
However, upon entering the building for a second time, reporters were told by a staff member reportedly in charge of shutting down the building that, as far as he knew, Katehi had already left. However, despite the lights to peripheral hallways being shut off, the light for the cubicle’s hallway remained on, and protesters at all possible exits maintained that Katehi had not left.
As the late afternoon gave way to dark, some protesters kept the rest updated to developments on the internet and social media. Many brought laptops and smartphones to connect online to blogs and publish their accounts of the protest live from the scene.
Announcements were made about the number of people who had signed a petition calling for Katehi’s resignation, which grew from 11,000 to 12,000 over the course of the night, according to the announcements.
Students were not the only ones demanding Katehi’s resignation: Nathan Brown, assistant professor of English at UCD, stated in an open letter to Katehi that he held her accountable for the pepper-spray incident, and that he demanded her resignation on the grounds of police brutality.
Widespread support from various groups encouraged the students to maintain the momentum of their protest. As the impasse continued, Cal Aggie Christian Association director Rev. Kristin Stoneking was called to the protest as a mediator.
“[Katehi’s] concerns are respectful exit, I think,” Stoneking said. “I believe the students are true in their commitment to a peaceful exit, and I hope that I can communicate that to her.”
Stoneking was called into the building to meet with Katehi. She appointed Tom as a representative for the protesters. However, outside protesters maintained that their protest had no leader.
Tom exited the building, making his way to the middle of the pathway that now stretched into the street. Accompanied by Stoneking and visibly upset, Tom addressed the attentive crowd with a list of grievances against the university. He proposed that somebody drive the chancellor’s car up the path the students had cleared, and that Katehi walk to her car.
The crowd grew anxious as it became apparent that the chancellor would accept Tom’s proposal. When Katehi’s husband stepped out of the building into the midst of the protesters, the crowd fell quiet. He walked the few yards to his wife’s car and drove it to the parking lot exit, then parked it. He then walked back to the door.
The crowd maintained an eerily absolute silence when at 6:48 p.m., Katehi, followed closely by Stoneking, marched through the students, who had cleared a path for Katehi and were sitting on the ground.
As Katehi walked slowly through the aisle, hounded by journalists and cameras, she appeared to briefly glance over the protesters, not making eye contact. Her face remained impassive as she walked, her gaze rooted to the ground.
She got into the passenger seat of the car, and her husband got into the driver’s seat. They left and drove away on Hutchison Drive, and the crowd remained silent, until Katehi’s car became just a distant haze of red taillights in the darkness.
Afterward, the students stood up and gathered on Hutchison Drive and cheered loudly in celebration. They shared pizza slices and shouted chants such as “The people, united, will never be divided.”
“I’m just proud to see everyone who came out here and just sitting together,” UCD senior Michelle Seibert said after the protest.
“The silence was incredible. It was such an impressive moment. It’s all about solidarity. We’re a community, including Katehi,” UCD senior Vanessa Valdez added.
According to CNN.com, UCD administrators have placed two police officers on administrative leave after the pepper spraying incident. However, Katehi has demonstrated no inclination to acquiesce to calls for her resignation.