The UC Santa Barbara student organization Young Democratic Socialists of America held a march on May 8 to demand that the university distribute $900 COVID-19 relief checks to all students.
The group of approximately 40 students and community organizers began their 2 p.m. march at Storke Tower before walking to Chancellor Henry T. Yang’s house, where Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) leadership, students and community participants gave speeches on their demands for the university in front of his home.
Protestors then chalked the sidewalk outside of Yang’s house, covering the ground with slogans like “$900 now,” “Power to the Students” and “Eat my Ass Yang.”
Last year, UCSB received $25.2 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (C.A.R.E.S.) Act, 50% of which went directly to students. This year, the university received $38 million from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act (CRRSAA), $12,602,098 of which will go directly to students.
Taylor Clark, a second-year history and sociology major and YDSA co-chair, explained that the YDSA believes that UCSB should be distributing more of the remaining COVID-19 relief funding to the student body.
The remaining federal relief funds totaled $22 million at the school’s second quarter report and $15 million at the third quarter report, via a public records request to UCSB’s Environmental Health and Safety Office filed by the YDSA.
“For this march, what we’re doing is we’re demanding that [the] university use that money in the form of $900 checks to every student,” Clark said.
“The previous [COVID-19 relief] financial aid [that] the student body has received has not been given to every student,” he continued. “About half the student body hasn’t received any money from the university since the pandemic began, at least in specific COVID relief funds.”
According to Clark, the university responded to the YDSA’s demand on May 7 — the night before the march — to tell the student group that they couldn’t afford to offer COVID-19 relief checks and needed the money to “balance the budget,” a claim Clark that found “absurd.”
“They’ve had the [remaining] funds for enough time, [and] they won’t tell us what they plan to do with them,” said Patrick Fairbanks, a fourth-year sociology major and YDSA secretary.
“We think that the students know what’s best for them with money in their own pocket. They know what they need, and the school doesn’t and [the school has] proven that they are failing in their leadership,” he continued.
Fairbanks said that the YDSA wants to know how UCSB plans to allocate the remaining relief funds, information that the university has yet to release to the public.
“They could just tell us, you know, essentially to fuck off. They could be like, ‘We got plans. Here’s all our plans,’” Fairbanks quipped. “But they won’t do that. They won’t even talk to us.”
Asha Bosworth-Ahmet, a first-year environmental studies major, said she attended the march to show the university that student voices matter.
“COVID has affected so many people in so many different ways; at the university, we pay so much for tuition already … the students deserve some support from their university. There’s a lack of trust right now without it,” Bosworth-Ahmet said.
“$900 can go a long way for a lot of different people….it kind of feels like, as students, we’re just the university’s income. With $900 back to students, they can kind of break that really weird transactional relationship they have with us,” Bosworth-Ahmet continued. “I think it will mean a lot to students symbolically, and it will mean a lot on a literal level as well.”
Gina Sawaya, a UCSB staff member and a volunteer for both the YDSA and the community organization Food Not Bombs, spoke in front of Yang’s house to voice her frustration with the university.
“I’m tired, y’all,” Sawaya said to the crowd. “I’m sick and tired of the university telling us ‘no’ while they line their pockets, letting their buildings remain vacant while people sleep outside in the street, charging full rent during a pandemic and charging full tuition.”
“Tell me, UCSB administration, what are you doing to support your students during the worst economic crisis in a generation? Why are you sitting on $22 million while your students are struggling to pay your rent and for groceries?” she asked. “We want this. We need our support, and we want our money.”