05/08/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Comments On The California Student Protests

Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit

The March 4th day of protest in California inspired a lot of media coverage. This was not particularly surprising, as it was the biggest student protest of the past forty years. What was rather surprising, to me at least, were the comments. The dominant refrain seemed to be, "These kids are just whining...wait till they get into the real world."

Though some feel that college is apart from the real world, I contend that college is a part of the real world. College is the first time that students are invited to discuss what it means to live as citizens of world. The current debate and protest is simply not just about fees and quality, it is also about who will ultimately have the right to learn and think critically about their world and their place within in.

Currently, I am traveling to every California State University campus meeting and interviewing students, faculty, lecturers and staff about their personal experience with the budget cuts. I am personally vested in this project, not only as a two-time alumnus of a CSU, but also as a lecturer who was laid off due to budgetary cuts. What I am discovering is new, even to me: people have stopped talking.

As the talk of furloughs (reduction in salary and time) and additional budget cuts picked up momentum in 2009, there became an immediate need to act and a call to action. Professors and lecturers in faculty meetings debated next steps for the Fall 2009 semester, while students and student organizations used Facebook to mobilize support and centralize information. It seemed everyone was poised for a revolution.

Yesterday, I toured a CSU campus in Northern California before and during the march and demonstration, and I interviewed 7 people about their experience. Remarkably, many shared that they have simply stopped talking about this issue, not because of a lack of significance or commitment to the issue, but because it has become extremely painful and isolating to talk about something that affects their whole world, professionally and socially, especially when many others believe that they are simply complaining over nothing. Yet, the situation is quite real.

There were an untold number of lecturers (those with a master's degree) teaching in the CSU system who have simply vanished. Their terms of hire are often semester-to-semester, so technically they were not fired, but they were not asked back. This may not seem like a particularly salient issue, but when you consider that at many CSU departments, most of the undergraduate and GE required courses are taught by lecturers, or supported by lecturers, you begin to comprehend the number of educators and researchers across California that are out of work.

These teachers, these citizens and taxpayers, are now dealing with foreclosures, access to affordable healthcare, as well as looking for work in a state with a sky rocketing unemployment rate. The intersectionality of this struggle is palpable: when we do not back up our value of education with a social and political system that works, we begin to unravel the very fabric of our state and of our nation, with untold consequences for those across all professions and affiliations. We most certainly affect one another.

At a rally in Sacramento, organizers were discussing whether they should read off the names of politicians in California who received their education from a CSU. That idea was scrapped when they realized it would have lasted the entire day.