Santa Cruz is a sleepy college town nestled at the base of a mountain range on California’s Central Coast. Recently, the city, famous for its beach boardwalk and redwood forests, experienced an act of civil disobedience by six of the university’s students.
This news might seem unremarkable for a college community known for its alternative lifestyle and liberal leanings. But the demonstration—held in early March in opposition to tuition hikes across the state—has led to some soul-searching for the University of California, Santa Cruz, which is coming under scrutiny for abandoning its tradition of political activism and the values it still uses to market itself. Despite lasting only a few hours, the protest has also dragged Santa Cruz into the center of national conversations about student debt, generational divides, and the efficacy of certain protest tactics designed to attract attention.
The six students are all California residents between the ages of 19 and 28 who decided to protest the tuition increases by blocking a major thoroughfare in the area. They now each face sentences of 30 days in jail for two misdemeanors, including for creating a public nuisance, though the local district attorney is reportedly striving to convince the judge to sentence them to more time. (They were initially charged as felons for criminal conspiracy, but those charges were later dropped.) Meanwhile, the university administration has suspended them each for a year and a half, during which time they will not have access to housing or healthcare.