Taking advantage of some extra patience on the part of administrators who came under heavy criticism for the pepper-spraying of demonstrators in November, student protesters on the UC Davis campus have seized control of a vacant campus building and are sporadically blocking access to an on-campus bank.
Two days into the Occupy movement takeover of a single-story cottage that formerly served as the Cross Cultural Center, the administration hasn't officially told the students they can't be in the building. The lights and heat remain on as the university examines its options.
"We're monitoring it. We are going to make decisions based on the best interest of the university. Nobody wants a repeat of what happened in November," said Claudia Morain, a spokeswoman for the university.
Campus police pepper-sprayed a number of students during a Nov. 18 standoff as officers sought to clear a tent encampment from the university quad. The university was widely vilified after videos of the spraying posted on the Internet were viewed millions of times.
That incident and protest-related problems at other UC campuses prompted a systemwide review of policies concerning protests at all University of California campuses.
"We are fully committed to developing processes that prevent that outcome from ever being repeated," Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi wrote in a Tuesday response to that review.
Katehi said that as a result of the pepper-spraying she has designated a senior academic official to be present during any major protest to keep students' interests in mind, created an "engagement team" and pledged to create a police advisory board, among other steps.
Even before the November incident, the university had attempted to avoid confrontation. When students decided to occupy the campus administration building three days before the pepper-spraying incident, police remained in the building but took no action for nearly 24 hours. When the majority of students had gone to class, the police secured the building without incident.
Since the pepper-spraying, the university has not taken action to thwart the campus campground. Tents go up and down. Ten remain.
Thursday, there were no officers in sight as students made use of the old cultural center conference room.
"I think the administration is scared to move at us," said student protester Tom Zolot. "We are pushing boundaries."
Pushing boundaries has included a blockade Wednesday of the US Bank branch within the student union.
Prepared for further protest Thursday, four suited bank employees and three private security guards stood in the bank lobby or right outside the locked front door. They passed the time making small talk.
"Our concern is that the customers cannot come and go as they please," said Teri Charest, a spokeswoman for the bank. Media reports suggested the bank might leave campus if the protests continued, but Charest did not repeat that threat Thursday.
The building takeover and bank blockage represent an escalation in tactics that doesn't sit well with all of the people who have been associated with the campus Occupy movement.
Student Artem Rafkin said he was personally against the building occupation. He and about 40 other students gathered midday Thursday to discuss whether to continue the occupation. With no consensus, some of the group will continue to occupy the building while others will not use the building but will not condemn those that remain.
"This is not the first time in the history of Occupy different groups have tried different tactics," Rafkin said.
He said while he hasn't heard from the administration, he and others have heard from officials of the two programs that are slated to move into the building.
The Educational Opportunity Program, which helps minorities adjust to life in college, and the Guardian Scholar Program, which helps foster kids, were set to move in in a couple of weeks, Morain said.
Rafkin said it's clear the university is treating them differently than it did before the pepper-spray incident, but he didn't expect it to last.
"In the short-term they are waiting for people to forget," he said. "In the long term, we are just as much in danger of a police attack as we were before the pepper spray."