UCSB students marched across campus to Chancellor Henry Yang's house, chanting things like: "UC, you're no good! Pay your workers as you should!" | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

Student workers marched across the UC Santa Barbara campus on Friday, led by fifth-year graduate student Joe Costello in a call-and-response chant: “What’s disgusting? Union busting! What’s outrageous? Chancellor’s raises!”

More than a hundred students — many members of the unions representing postdoctoral student researchers, tutors, and  teaching assistants — gathered in front of the chemistry building before marching together to Chancellor Henry Yang’s University House, where they gave accounts of their housing hardships before taking chalk to the asphalt of Yang’s driveway, writing personal messages to the university’s man in charge.

The student workers are set to begin labor negotiations within the next week, and one of their demands is relief from their rent burdens — 90 percent of academic student employees and over 70 percent of postdoctoral researchers are rent-burdened, according to criteria laid out by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

UCSB protesters’ signs read, “Housing is a human right,” and “NSF should pay for science, NOT landlords.” | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

When the students reached the lawn in front of the chancellor’s house, Costello asked how many of those in attendance paid more than half of their monthly wages on rent. All raised their hands. Costello then asked how it was possible that Yang — who just received a 28.4 percent raise and will now make $579,750 per year beginning in March of the 2022-23 academic year — pays no rent for his mid-century modern, lagoon-front on-campus housing.

“We deserve to live in dignity,” Costello said.

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Several other student workers shared their own housing horror stories. Emma John, a fourth-year teaching assistant in the history department, lived in an “unpermitted storage shed” last year. She paid $1,400 a month for a unit that she said wasn’t legally considered livable, and she took her landlord to court and later won.

Anna Holman said she was homeless in the beginning of the quarter. She lived in her Honda Element and said the daily struggles led to anxiety and depression, and she began to fall behind on her studies. After finding permanent housing in Solvang, she says she feels lucky, though over 70 percent of her pay goes to her apartment, and the costs of commuting back and forth eat up even more of her income.

Third-year art student Izzy Bahamonde-Partlan also spent the first few weeks homeless, crashing on friends’ couches or wherever she could. She works two jobs at the university, and said 100 percent of her paychecks go toward rent. If she weren’t able to get extra help, there would be no way to maintain her living situation.

UCSB students write messages in chalk on the driveway in front of Chancellor Henry Yang’s house on campus. | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

Janna Haider is a member of UAW Local 2865, the union for teaching assistants, and she is part of the team that will begin negotiations in less than five days. She said teaching assistants in humanities take home around $21,000 per year.

The push to eliminate rent burden for student workers is part of a larger movement across the UC system, with many demanding that the UC system address the issue by providing affordable, quality housing and housing subsidies that reflect the cost of living in each city. When student workers pay more than 30 percent of their wages to rent, the workers say, it marginalizes communities and affects diversity on campuses.

One thing the student workers do not want: windowless mega-dorms. Several of the chants, chalk messages, and speeches reflected a shared disdain for the proposed Munger Hall. “Housing has to have windows,” Holman said.

UCSB administration and Chancellor Yang’s office have not made official comment and could not be reached as of time of publication. 

Signs read, “Sate world hunger. NOT Charles Munger,” and “Chancellor Yang gets a raise while UCSB students get windowless dorms. Chancellor Yang, where is your shame?” | Credit: Ryan P. Cruz

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