Photo from the LA Times (Karl Mondon / Bay Area News Group)

I’m One of the Lucky Ones

“I’m homeless at UC Berkeley, but at least my tuition is paid.” — Students at UC Berkeley, the Number One Public University in the World.

Valerie Pacheco
Dec 8, 2016 · 5 min read

On November 17, 2016, I woke up at 6am to catch the bus that would take me and other UC Berkeley students to San Francisco. We were going to protest the tuition hikes proposed by the Regents of the University of California. I had never done anything like this before. I was both scared and excited. Even then I really didn’t understand why I was there, but I knew I was doing the right thing.

I am a low income student. I receive a Cal Grant, Pell Grant, SEOG Grant, as well as UC scholarships. And I have two jobs. I am the kind of student the regents say would not be affected by the tuition hikes. According to them, I’m going to be fine because I already receive so much support from the university.

Well. I work until 2am four days a week, sometimes more, yet by the end of my sophomore year I will already be $14,000 in debt. $14,000 BEFORE the tuition hike. My student debt is mounting, and for the first time in my life I am beginning to think that I might not go to law school; not because my grades aren’t good enough or my resume isn’t strong enough, but because I don’t see any way I can afford it. The dream I’ve had since I was 12 years old is slipping away from me with every loan I am forced to take.

But I am still one of the lucky ones.

I have somewhere to live thanks to the student loans, I have food to eat thanks to my sleepless nights, and I have the books I need for class thanks to my soon to be maxed out credit card.

Some students are homeless or crammed into apartments and co-ops that are over capacity. One in five UC students is food insecure. Many can’t afford the class materials they need.

During the protest I marched and yelled and “stormed the regents” until my voice was gone and my feet hurt. Then I drank some water and carried on. Soon a bus with students from UC San Diego arrived, followed by a bus from UC Riverside carrying straggling students from the rest of the UC’s. These students drove all night to march with us. We exchanged stories and grievances and I realized that unaffordable rents and food insecurity were not restricted to UC Berkeley — they existed at all the UC campuses across the state.

Many students spoke of their parents’ sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices of their siblings who would not get to attend a UC because their parents could not afford to send two students to college. In order to pay for their children’s tuition and living expenses, many parents work two jobs, forgo trips to the doctor’s office, and in some cases lose their homes. After all that, their children still have to work long hours in order to pay rent and buy books and afford food. Now, on top of the stress of succeeding at a high level university, students also have to deal with the guilt of “burdening” their parents.

The regents say the tuition hike is only 2.5% (about $280). They say the impact won’t be felt by low income students.

This is not true.

Those $280 can mean no dinner for two weeks. Those $280 can mean the difference between staying at the UC or going home to a community college or no college at all.

California is a very wealthy state, the 6th largest economy in the world. The California 2016–17 budget put the general fund at $115 billion, but only $14.5 million is going to higher education, with only $3.5 million of that going to the University of California. The state of California’s economy is better than most countries in the world, yet college students in California’s public education system face mounting economic hardships.

For students like myself, education is our only way out of poverty.

My parents instilled in me the importance of education. They did not return to their homes in Mexico as they had originally planned. Instead, they stayed in the United States because I asked them to. I remember telling them when I was 12 that I could go to college here, I could become a lawyer here, I would have a good future here. I said that if we moved to Mexico it would ruin that future. My parents decided to stay, and I worked everyday of my life to make sure that I could do what I told them I would do. I said that one day I would go to Berkeley or Stanford because they were the best universities in California. I promised my parents I would be the best that I could be, for them.

I never thought about the cost of college — I just wanted to get there. I didn’t care about how much debt I would be in because I knew that one day I would have a job that allowed me to pay it off. I knew that hard work is rewarded and success is earned, and I have earned everything I have ever gotten.

I’m here now. I am about to finish my third semester at Cal, sleep deprived and saddened by the state of the UC system. I, like so many other students, did what was asked of me. I got the grades, I did the extracurriculars, and I wrote the college essays. I got in and I’m succeeding.

So why isn’t our university doing right by me and all the others who earned their spots at the UC? Why are we told to give 110% of ourselves and to make every sacrifice necessary when the University will turn its back to us?

We are the leaders of tomorrow, and we have proven that we are willing and ready to assume that responsibility. It is time that the institutions that exist to be our advocates start doing their jobs.

Secret History of America

New Essays in American Studies from UC Berkeley

Thanks to Sally Littlefield, Michael Mark Cohen, Rosemarie Alejandrino, Kristen Wilson, and Adam Iscoe

Valerie Pacheco

Written by

Secret History of America

New Essays in American Studies from UC Berkeley

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