by Quentin Freeman
Some schools have snow days. So far this year, UC Berkeley prefers to spice it up with Our State is On Fire Days, Worldwide Epidemic Days, and All Our Grad Students are On Strike For Livable Wages Days. Whoever said school was boring? The UC Berkeley grad students voted to go on a full strike starting Monday, March 16, in demand of a cost of living adjustment (COLA) and in solidarity with the 4 other UC campuses currently on strike. Starting Monday, not only will our classes be virtual, but if your GSI is one of the students on strike, it’s no guarantee that they’ll happen at all. Wondering what to do with yourself to fill the time (besides support your GSIs and wash your hands)? Spring break trip to Italy get cancelled? A little freaked out by campus’s new pre-apocalyptic vibe? Consider the following:
Get outside! Berkeley is home to some delightful hiking trails, and nature is only a walk, bike ride, bus, or BART away. Work out those lungs and get some Vitamin D, and word on the streets is that trees can’t spread the virus. Short of using our cancelled classes as an opportunity to live out your hermit-in-the-forest dreams, check out the Fire Trails for some local action, or take the 67 bus to Tilden, where you can stroll through redwoods and around lakes. Want to get out of Berkeley? Head to Briones Regional Park just over the Berkeley Hills for some beatific rolling hills, or make the longer trek to Point Reyes National Seashore-- accessible by public transit!
Listen to Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. Yeah, it might not be the most uplifting song to go with the crumbling university, but what a banger. Get yourself fired up to take on whatever the world wants to throw at you, from glitching internet on your Zoom lecture to a full-scale, nuclear-fallout-style apocalypse.
Teach yourself a new skill or hobby. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to play the guitar, or speak Gaelic! Learn to embroider, identify edible plants, practice your survival skills, or perfect your latte art. Maybe take up woodworking so you can build that off the grid cabin of your dreams! Now’s your chance to memorize all the lyrics to It’s the End of the World As We Know It by R.E.M.!
Feeling romantic? Hozier’s Wasteland, Baby! is the ultimate album for when it’s the end of the world, but you’re also totally in love. Highlights from the record include No Plan, complete with driving beat and nihilistic discussion of how there is in fact no plan for the universe, and everything will at some point return to darkness-- but at least you’re watching the final sunset with your girl! A little more on the acoustic side of things, check out the titular track, Wasteland, Baby: a soft, delicate ballad with lyrics like poetry. I mean, “And the day that we watch the death of the sun / that the cloud and the cold and those jeans you have on / That you gaze unafraid as they saw from the city ruins /Wasteland, baby / I'm in love / I’m in love with you” -- nobody ever said the end of days had to be a turn off. The album is full of great date ideas for the end of the world, if you need any inspiration.
Maybe don’t read The Stand by Stephen King unless you really want to lean into this whole pandemic thing. A nearly thousand page post-apocalyptic horror epic, The Stand is a fabulous way to kill a couple dozen hours. Its intricate web of characters, slightly disturbing world-building, and unfortunately very timely premise of apocalypse-by-disease keeps you riveted and a tad freaked out-- but very grateful that our own pandemic is not quite as horrifying and end-of-the-world-inducing as the fictional virus in the novel.
However you decide to fill your time, don’t forget that in reality, COVID-19 isn’t the harbinger of the end of days; as truly unfortunate as this situation is, it’s only temporary. Wash your hands, be careful, go home if you want, but don’t fall prey to the panic. See you on Zoom!
by Quentin Freeman
Santa Cruz, CA-- a beach town that is home to lush, towering redwoods and a groovy surfer vibe-- is the city in which I spent the first 18 years of my life. The same city is now the site of a weeks-long strike by UCSC grad students demanding a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to address the rent levels that are, quite frankly, absurdly high, and leave many students housing and food insecure. Santa Cruz, as idyllic as it is nestled between the redwoods and the ocean, is in the midst of a housing crisis. Between the university continuing to enroll more students than it has room to house (sound familiar, Berkeley?), and affluent Silicon Valley professionals moving in, demand for housing far outweighs supply, and rent prices have skyrocketed. Grad students at UCSC, who are responsible for the majority of face-to-face teaching, are spending on average 50% -- sometimes as high as 70% -- of their income from the university on rent. Students live in cars, or are forced to choose between rent and food, health care, or opportunities for their children. Months of negotiations with the university for a monthly stipend to address the disparity between pay and cost of living in Santa Cruz have turned into an all-out strike; grad students and hundreds of undergrad and faculty supporters have held a picket line since February 10 in the face of threats of police violence, firing, and deportation of international students from the university. The movement for a COLA isn’t contained to UCSC: last week saw solidarity rallies at every single UC campus, including our own.
Berkeley’s grad students find themselves in a similar predicament to UCSC’s: we all know the struggle to find housing- and the far greater struggle to find affordable housing- in Berkeley. Our own COLA is calculated to be $600 per month more than UCSC’s, and grad students on campus are considering their own strike if their demands to the UC aren’t met by March 6. It’s unclear how willing the university will be to negotiate. The rally that took place here on Friday and spread to an occupation of Crossroads was already met by police presence-- there were even police outside Cafe 3, hoping to prevent any further takeovers of the dining halls in the name of food security for our grad students. The police presence really provided a charming ambiance for my already delightful dining hall meal.
Grad students and lecturers are responsible for the vast majority of teaching on our campus; without them, UC Berkeley would not function as an educational institution. Yes, we have professors with Nobel Laureates. But without their GSI, would that professor be able to effectively teach, grade papers or field questions? Seems unlikely. As someone who grew up in Santa Cruz in all its beachy rent-burdened glory, I am now an undergrad at UC Berkeley learning just as much from my GSIs than my professors. Additionally, I’m on my own hunt for affordable housing, so these strikes hit close to home. No student should be sacrificing their quality of life, their safety, or their health for their education or their job. So here’s the question: if grad students are invaluable at our schools, why aren’t we paying them enough to live, teach, and research here? Why are we meeting them with police presence and threatening to fire them? Who does Janet Napolitano expect to teach countless classes and discussion sections if all the grad student teachers are fired? If the UC is theoretically a public institution, shouldn’t it serve everyone, and not just those affluent enough to afford to live in California? It’s not like the university doesn’t have the money-- UC Berkeley spent $290,000 just on security for Ann Coulter to speak on campus. Think of the housing and food for our grad students that could have gone to (perhaps a better cause than protecting hate speech, but that’s just one girl’s opinion). So keep your eye out for a COLA strike of our own, Berkeley, because the fight for better living, working, and learning conditions won’t stop in Santa Cruz. And in the meantime, be nice to your GSI.