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Building rename sparks protests

By Greg Holt
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday October 10, 2003

Building honoring Chavez upsets groups

Three student political groups plan to protest the renaming of the Economics building at the ceremony Sunday.

Approximately 30 members of the College Republicans, Student Objectivist Society, and the Independent Women of the University of Arizona will voice their objection to the administration's decision to rename the building in honor of Cesar E. Chavez, a Yuma-born union leader.

The protest will take place during the formal dedication ceremony in front of the newly-named Cesar E. Chavez building. It will follow a celebration march that will begin in front of Old Main at 2 p.m.

Chavez founded United Farm Workers, a union of California farm workers, in 1956. He was also known for holding hunger strikes to raise public awareness of farm labor and migrant worker issues.

When universities limit themselves to statements that are unanimously held, then they are saying nothing.
Peter Likins
UA president

"We think it's a bad choice for naming the building, and we're going to let that be known in a peaceful, civil manner," said Tyler Harris, mathematics junior and vice president of the College Republicans.

The groups plan to set up tables on the Mall where the Chavez celebration march will pass. They also plan to have picket signs and will be distributing literature that supports their cause.

"We'll have a lot of literature from the '60s and '70s, historical documents which describe what he was doing during that time," said Erik Flesch, a geosciences senior and president of the Student Objectivist Society, a group that advocates the philosophy of 20th century author Ayn Rand.

The protesters see the tribute to Chavez as one not honoring a humanitarian and civil rights leader, but instead honoring a glorified union bully.

"Chavez was a Marxist who used the threat of force on both farm workers and farm owners," said Harris. "He was a terrible human being not worthy of any honor, let alone having a building named after him.

"He established a union monopoly over farm workers in California. That establishes him as anti-capitalism and individual rights," Flesch said. "His tactics were violent, as they must be when establishing a monopoly.

He was violent not only to growers, but also with workers who the majority of which didn't want to join his union."

Socorro Carrizosa, director of Chicano-Hispano Student Affairs, led the campaign for passage of the Chavez name change nomination through the Facilities Naming Committee. President Peter Likins said he had no problem approving the nomination after it passed.

"For Hispanics today, he is symbolic of a time when they began to assert themselves and fight the prejudice they were subjected to," Likins said.

While Likins understands that controversy might surround the Chavez dedication, he is not afraid to make a statement.

"When universities limit themselves to statements that are unanimously held, then they are saying nothing," Likins said. "I don't attempt to secure everyone's opinion in what I do."

Protest groups believe the Chavez dedication is merely an attempt to bolster the number of Hispanic students at the UA.

"Likins is actively trying to make the UA more Hispanic-friendly," said Flesch. "It is a racist statement that all Hispanics would revere this man."

Likins does not dispute that he hopes the renaming will attract Hispanic students. Hispanic students currently make up 14 percent of the UA population.

"I try in many ways to make it as clear as I can that the university is open to everyone. I thought here is an opportunity to make Hispanic students feel welcome," Likins said. "That's not to say every Hispanic student likes Chavez."

Sean Ryan, a biochemistry graduate student, said he supports the name change.

"From what I know, I think it's a great movement to give him recognition. I think diversity is an integral part of the campus," he said.

"He's such an icon for Hispanic people, he helped them even if it's not the way people liked," said Erica Hsiao, undeclared freshman.

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