California Forum

Student sues UCSD for letting her protest on freeway, makes case for a true safe space

A UC San Diego student is suing over injuries sustained during a November 2016 anti-Trump demonstration on Interstate 5, similar to this one around the same time on Los Angeles’ 101 Freeway. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
A UC San Diego student is suing over injuries sustained during a November 2016 anti-Trump demonstration on Interstate 5, similar to this one around the same time on Los Angeles’ 101 Freeway. (Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times/TNS) TNS

Nobody ever said civil disobedience was safe. When protesters take to the freeways to make their outrage known, it’s a wonder more people aren’t struck by surprised or angry motorists.

That’s what happened to Maria Ana Carrola Flores, a student at the University of California, San Diego. Flores was among 500 or so demonstrators who marched from the La Jolla campus to Interstate 5 in the early morning hours of Nov. 9, 2016. They were angry about a presidential election that didn’t go their way.

Interstate 5 in San Diego is always busy, even at 1:30 a.m. Although a Caltrans truck was attempting to stop traffic, a motorist drove around and struck the young woman. Flores was knocked unconscious and suffered multiple fractures.

Naturally, Flores is suing Caltrans and the driver of the car that hit her. But she’s also suing UCSD and the UC Regents, which is where things get interesting.

Her lawyer, Jerold “Gene” Sullivan, insists this isn’t another loony lawsuit with a snowflake plaintiff trying to avoid responsibility for hazardous behavior. He maintains, however, the university had a responsibility to contain the protest and ensure students’ safety.

In particular, the complaint alleges that the early morning demonstration was “organized” by the university. That can’t be correct, can it?

An attorney friend explained it to me. Sullivan’s theory, he said, “is that the resident advisers encouraged students to protest Trump’s election, and therefore the university ‘organized’ the protests by acting through its employees.”

To make that case, Sullivan would have to prove that the resident advisers actually did this, that they were acting within the scope of their employment at the time, that Flores understood the resident advisers to be acting as the university’s representatives and not in their personal capacity when they encouraged protests, that the resident advisers did not just organize protests in general but organized them on the freeway.

He would also need to prove that the acts of the resident advisers contributed at least in part to Flores running onto the interstate, and that a reasonable person in her position would have done the same because of the acts of the campus resident advisers.

Sounds far-fetched. I hope she wins anyway.

Her victory, however crazy it may appear, might force the university to reimpose a bit of sanity after a very long bout of delirium. Fact is, UC San Diego students have been protesting the injustices of the world on I-5 for about a quarter-century.

I was there in 1992 when more than 400 UCSD students marched out to the southbound side of the freeway and sat down in protest of the not guilty verdicts of four Los Angeles police officers in the Rodney King beating case. They stopped traffic for two hours and the California Highway Patrol, in its wisdom, made no arrests. The university must have had some clue it would happen becauucse students in Berkeley had accomplished a similar feat hours earlier.

That which is rewarded is repeated. So it’s no wonder students pulled the same stunt several more times over the years. Before the 2016 election, it was the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.

At no time was anyone arrested. Nobody was expelled. It’s a miracle nobody was hurt – until Flores, that is.

So, yes, the University of California bears more than a little responsibility here.

Let Flores’ case serve as a catalyst for change. University students demand safe spaces? Let’s give them safe spaces.

The idea really isn’t so novel. We used to have a nice Latin phrase for it: in loco parentis, “in the place of a parent.”

Higher education more or less jettisoned the concept in the 1960s, when the country lost its mind. Well, maybe it’s time to mount a comeback. For that we would have Maria Flores to thank.

Ben Boychuk is managing editor of American Greatness. He can be contacted at ben@amgreatness.com or on Twitter @benboychuk.

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