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‘This space matters’: Students organize occupation of Anthropology Library

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Update 4/26/2023: This article has been updated to reflect that the sit-in is still ongoing, as of press time.

On Wednesday, protestors entered their sixth day of occupation of the George and Mary Foster Anthropology Library, revealing no intention to surrender any time soon.

Anthropology students have protested the decision to close three of UC Berkeley’s libraries and reallocate their materials since February, when the Long-Term Space Plan for the Library was proposed. The most recent turn of events saw students organizing an occupation of the Anthropology Library to create a dialogue with campus.

Friday marked the second occupation of the Anthropology Library by students and staff this year and was the fourth occupation of the space since 2012. 

A document provided by the group organizing the movement highlighted that within the next two months, database subscriptions will be cut and collections will be redistributed throughout Main (Gardner) Stacks.

“The relocation of the collections will create a barrier of time and distance between library users and the materials,” the document states. “This library is a crucial pedagogical tool for undergraduates to learn how to do research.”

Friday, April 21

To kickstart the sit-in Friday evening, a meeting took place in the library to address the occupation and express why taking action on the subject is important. At the meeting, Anthropology doctoral candidate Sandra Oseguera said she felt UC Berkeley was sending a “message of inverted priorities.”

When providing context for the occupation, Oseguera added that after the first sit-in in February, many students spoke to the people behind the decision. She noted administrators are still “pushing really hard” for the libraries’ closures.

Campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore commented on the protest.

“We are aware of the protest and are monitoring the situation,” Gilmore said in an email. “Regarding the Anthropology library’s closure, we, too, wish the library could remain open, but that is not an option at this point.”

However, Oseguera said she believes that this proposal not only goes against the mission of the UC system but also what a public university should be. 

The group planned to host a march and a rally on Cal Day for prospective students to learn about the movement. The goal is to reach a broader audience and grow their movement so conversations can occur with the university administration.

“We don’t have any other way to dialogue with the university, to show that this space matters and that the financial decisions have severe consequences for higher education,” Oseguera said at the meeting. 

Saturday, April 22

A crowd began to gather at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in front of the east entrance of the Anthropology and Art Practice building on the UC Berkeley campus, in a continuation of Friday’s sit-in.

About 30 people gathered by 9:45 a.m., when the group’s leaders, Oseguera and undergraduate organizer Ian Molloy, began to lead chants. Molloy studies anthropology as well.

“Open stacks, full stacks, fat stacks, fight back!” chanters said. “Oski Oski why, oh, why, do our libraries have to die?”

The protestors also held signs and distributed flyers to attendees and viewers alike. Animal skulls, bones and tools used in anthropology classes, such as shovels and brushes, were also displayed on a desk. 

The group took the Birge Path and merged onto the Eshleman Road around 10 a.m., after which they walked across Sather Gate and through the south side of Wheeler Hall to the Campanile. Visitors for Cal Day took photos of the group and accepted flyers the group gave out. 

Molloy noted an agreement was struck between the library protestors and Telegraph for People, a group of students advocating for car-free spaces, to have the protest lead into a pre-planned closure of Telegraph Avenue. The group left the street around 10:45 a.m. to continue their sit-in at the library. 

“At that first occupation, we were expecting only the Anthro department,” Molloy said. “But we got so much support from around the campus … There’s a reciprocity of our partnership and aligning of our political ideologies that has made us allies.”

Sunday, April 23

As the occupation continues, campus administration and Chancellor Carol Christ have not yet responded to organizers of the occupation as of Sunday night, Molloy said.

Rabindra Hayashi, organizer and anthropology doctoral student, said he is feeling optimistic about the impact of the protest, adding that the organizers are “taking things as they come.”

“We’re fighting for the actual collection, the curated archive, the story that these shelves tell,” said Jesús Gutierrez, organizer and anthropology doctoral candidate. “Part of the value of this library as a public good is really allowing the public to learn about the kinds of important work that anthropologists do.”

After eating dinner, participants of the occupation gathered for a teach-in about immigrant rights with the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, collectively called BAMN.

Hoku Jeffrey, a member of BAMN and sit-in participant, led a discussion about rights and protections for immigrants who have been effectively shut out by the federal government, BAMN’s statement stated. Students and faculty brought up personal experiences with immigration and intersecting issues.

Gutierrez said members of the occupation are using the library for what it was intended to be, as a place of discussion and work. Molloy, who worked on his homework in between events, noted there “isn’t a space more alive.”

“The ball is in their court,” Gutierrez said. “Are they on the side of defending public education and crucial pedagogical resources for the community and for the future of a diverse generation of researchers and scholars? Or are they on the side of a new mode of corporate university management where the closure of libraries is the status quo?”

Monday, April 24

For the fourth day of the occupation, protestors hosted a press conference at the Anthropology Library, featuring testimonials from community members on the library’s significance to them.

According to Jeffrey, who also served as a panelist, the protestors plan to continue occupying the library until they receive a written declaration revoking its closure from campus administration.

“This space, for us, represents a vision and a value of public good that goes beyond the dollars-and-cents calculations the university has offered,” Gutiérrez said. “By supposedly ‘merging’ this collection, the university is fundamentally destroying these stories and destroying this collection.”

Protestors also mentioned discrepancies in the funding they were receiving compared to other campus departments. Alexander Parra, campus junior majoring in computer science and Chicanx Latinx studies, noted that the Anthropology library would take only around $400,000 to maintain.

UC Berkeley currently operates under a $3 billion budget, the Office of the Chief Financial Officer website reads.

“To me it’s clear what the university is prioritizing, and it’s not anthropology,” Parra said.

The sit-in has grown in size every night, according to Oseguera. A consistent crowd of around 20 protestors began the occupation on Friday, with numbers growing to 30 by Monday night.

As protestors have noted in the past, UC Berkeley’s anthropology library is one of three university anthropology libraries in the country. Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania host the two libraries aside from campus’s, according to Amyrah Doty, a campus sophomore who offered public comment at the press conference.

“Harvard would not be so rash as to get rid of their anthropology library. The UC administration is predicated upon profit instead of our student interests,” Doty, also an ASUC senator-elect, said. “I feel as though we are reduced to sources of revenue, research is inaccessible to me, a researcher, in a research university.”

Lindsay Muangman, Jingxing Wang Eleanor Jonas and Ria Raniwala contributed to this report.

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APRIL 26, 2023