UCI Shantytown Comes Down : Protest: Activists are fighting ‘marrieds-only’ housing policy. They say cardboard campground could go back up if administration doesn’t further gay rights.
After 10 days and several chilly nights, student activists at UC Irvine on Friday dismantled a cardboard shantytown erected outside the Administration Building to protest the university’s housing policy.
The shanties--which originally were intended to be part of a one-night protest--were broken down shortly after a group of more than two dozen students went to Chancellor Jack W. Peltason’s office to deliver a seven-point list of demands, insisting that gays, lesbians and other “non-traditional” couples be given the same status as married couples in the university’s housing policy.
The shantytown protest was launched Jan. 31 after Peltason said the university never had a policy exception that allowed homosexual or other unmarried couples to room in campus family housing.
Friday’s student letter, signed by a coalition of student groups called the Shantytown Committee, ended with a threat of “general civil disobedience,” including the reconstruction of the shantytown, if Peltason does not respond to the demands by March 3.
“We’re going to go up to the administration with our demands, and if they don’t respond we’re going to come back and we’re going to be ugly,” Napoleon Lustre, a member of the Shantytown Committee, told a group of cheering students at a lunchtime rally. Chants of “Ugly! Ugly! Ugly!” rose from the crowd.
The letter was accepted by Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Horace Mitchell. Peltason was not in his office when the student protesters arrived and was unavailable for comment later.
“I can’t comment on the demands because they’re directed at the chancellor,” Mitchell said. “They’ve asked for a response by March 3, and he’ll do that.”
Specifically, the letter demanded that the university implement the recommendations of a ad hoc committee appointed by Peltason to study gay and lesbian issues. The recommendations include:
- Hire a full-time advocate for the gay and lesbian community to be a counselor for homosexual students and a liaison with the university administration.
- More representation of the homosexual community in the faculty and staff.
- Guarantee equal access to graduate and family housing for gays and lesbians and provide “the same privileges and benefits” as married students in all aspects of campus affairs.
The letter concluded: “A direct response signifying your commitment to these demands together with concrete proposals for implementation must be made to the Shantytown Committee by March 3, 1990, or else we will assume a state of hostility exists between the Chancellor and the UCI community. Actions including the resumption of the Shantytown and general civil disobedience will be implemented if you fail to respond to our demands.”
Garret Green, co-chairman of the Gay and Lesbian Student Union, said protesters decided to dismantle the shantytown “to preserve our strength” for possible future demonstrations.
“We are not going to go away just because the cardboard boxes aren’t here,” Green said in a speech to onlookers.
Later, Green told The Times that the growth of the shantytown from a one-night protest site to a 10-day camp-out was “a symbol that we succeeded.”
“We are not admitting defeat,” Green said. “We actually have been more successful than we hoped to be.”
Jacqueline Sowell, also a leader of the Gay and Lesbian Students Union and a member of the Shantytown Committee, said activists also believed that they had won a small victory with the announcement that UCI Executive Vice Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien was named chancellor of UC Berkeley.
Throughout the protests, students praised Tien for listening to their demands and viewed him as a friend of their movement. One sign posted at the rally Friday read, “Congratulations Vice Chancellor Tien. Take Our Issue to Berkeley.”
At a press conference held about an hour before the rally to discuss his appointment to Berkeley, Tien said he had no plans to institute changes in housing policy there. Protesters said changes at Berkeley would carry more weight within the UC system and would eventually trickle down to Irvine.
“Chancellor Peltason and Vice Chancellor Mitchell have dealt with this problem, and I was being consulted all the time,” Tien said. “I’m in full support of the institutional policy and the procedures.”
But Sowell dismissed Tien’s statement as “just his public position” and said she was confident that he was working behind the scenes towards changing the housing policy.
“It’s a volatile issue,” Sowell said. “I doubt anyone wants to be publicly involved with it, especially an incoming chancellor.”
Judy Olson, vice president for internal affairs of the Associated Graduate Students, said she believed that most of the top administrators, including Mitchell and Tien, were sympathetic with the students’ demands.
“I really believe it’s just the chancellor (who opposes the demands),” Olson said.
She also said she stuck with the shantytown for the duration because it was “the right thing to do.”
“I’m wearing the clothes I slept in last night, and I haven’t had a shower and I haven’t brushed my teeth,” Olson said. “I’ve been living like this for the past week, and this has been one of the happiest experiences of my life.”
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