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Some UC Regents Sit Down with Pro-Palestinian Protesters at UC Merced
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By The Merced Focus
Published 4 weeks ago on
May 17, 2024

UC Regents engage in a dialogue with pro-Palestinian protesters, discussing divestment from Israel and companies funding the Gaza Strip war. (KVPR/Rachel Livinal)

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The third and final day of the University of California Board of Regents meeting Thursday at UC Merced was highlighted by a sit-down between several trustees and pro-Palestinian protesters.

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Rachel Livinal

The Merced FOCUS

 

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Victor A. Patton

The Merced FOCUS

The members of the board – Greg Sarris, Joel Raznick, Jose Hernandez, Keith Ellis, Student Regent Designate Josiah Beharry and Student Regent Merhawi Tesfai – met with the protesters at their encampment.

There were two meetings between trustees and protesters Thursday. The first was cut short after outside agitators not affiliated with the encampment disrupted the meeting. A second meeting happened a few hours later without interruption.

The regents were asked questions by Jeneen Barakat, one of the UC Merced students who has been at the forefront of the campus’s pro-Palestinian movement since last year.

A Demand for Divestment

One of the protesters’ top demands is for the UC system to divest from Israel and companies that fund the war in the Gaza Strip.

Regent Hernandez reminded the group that any decision would have to come from the entire board, saying he and the other trustees were speaking at the gathering as individuals.

While he didn’t agree to divesting from the companies funding or profiting from the war, Hernandez committed to reading a list of the companies and making an informed decision.

“This is a process that doesn’t appear overnight,” Hernandez said. “I do believe through financial pressure that we get to change the behavior of countries, and companies will put the pressure on countries so that we stop this conflict that’s occurring right now.”

A Demand for Statement Condemning Palestinian Deaths

One of the most tense moments to happen during Thursday’s second meeting came when the regents were asked whether they would release a statement condemning the deaths of thousands of Palestinians as genocide.

Raznick said he didn’t believe there would be agreement among the regents on such a request. “I think it’s a terrible situation that needs to stop and change, but I don’t know that I would define it as genocide,” Raznick said.

Some among the protesters expressed displeasure with that answer. “Wow,” responded one of the members of the group.

A few responded with laughter, in amazement at Raznick’s answer. “Hey, hey, let’s be respectful. We did not laugh at you,” Regent Ellis responded.

Barakat, who remained calm and composed throughout the question and answer session, told Ellis she did not laugh, though she did express disappointment.

“It is disheartening to the students to hear you guys diminish the power and the advocacy that you could be doing, that you could be using, to advocate for such an important matter,” Barakat said.

Hernandez thought the statement wouldn’t do much, saying they should focus their efforts on different actions.

“I think instead of spending our energy on putting some words together to bring out to the press…what we should be spending our energy on is changing policy and changing policy because that’s the dollars,” Hernandez said. “That’s what’s going to motivate people to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got to stop doing this.’ It’s affecting their bottom line.”

Regents also asked if students would be willing to meet with administration to negotiate. Students have been hesitant, remaining steadfast on their decision to keep all discussions public at the encampment.

“You gave us a chance by inviting us here,” Ellis said. “Give them a chance, please. We’re just asking you to listen to them. Nothing else. You don’t have to decide anything. Just come back with us and listen to what they have to say.”

The session ultimately ended with the regents shaking hands with the group. The protesters then began chanting “end the attack on students now” as the two groups parted ways.

Controversial Resolution Remains Unresolved

The board on Thursday had been scheduled to discuss a proposal to prohibit faculty and staff from posting personal or collective opinions on university departmental websites.

The item, which had already been tabled previously, was put off once again by the regents Thursday.

UC Merced student protesters have said the action would censor staff from voicing opinions or facts involving the war on the Gaza Strip. Regents said the item will be brought back in July.

No Arrests Made During Regents Protests

The three day regents meeting, the first ever held at UC Merced, was marked by a few tense moments – though there were no instances of violence and no arrests were made, university officials confirmed.

On Wednesday, some protesters were escorted out of the afternoon session of the meeting by law enforcement after they began yelling for their voices to be heard.

Wednesday was also marked by an increase of more than 100 protesters at the encampment. Many of those individuals traveled from other parts of the state, including the Bay Area.

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