Woody Guthrie's 70-year-old folk song, "This Land is Your Land," documented class inequalities during the 1940s -- his song still resonates with today's UC Merced student activists.
While rallying Monday at the state's capital, two UC Merced students played guitar as a group of 100 other students from all the University of California campuses sang the lyrics to Guthrie's song.
Roughly 500 UC students marched and lobbied at the state Capitol for more funding for higher education as part of a month-long initiative to make higher education more affordable.
During the protest, five UC students were arrested in front of the office of Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Yuba City, for protesting without a permit on state property, according to the California Highway Patrol.
Monday was the first of several scheduled statewide protests to increase state funding for public education.
According to the UC Student Association, the state spent $2,470 less per student than it did in 1990. Since 2001, tuition has increased 140 percent for undergraduates.
Twenty UC Merced students took a bus Friday to Sacramento to attend a weekend lobbying conference, said Georgina Tosco, UC Merced vice president for associated students.
There, students learned how to put together quick 10-minute presentations in preparation for Monday's visits with Central Valley lawmakers.
UC Merced students talked to lawmakers mostly about increasing funding for Cal Grants.
A Cal Grant is financial aid that students do not have to pay back. Students can get up to $9,700 a year to pay for college.
According to Jose Godinez, UC Merced student lobbying director for Associated Students, lawmakers were cooperative but did not make pledges to support student funding increases.
If student fees continue to increase then there won't be as many students from lower or working class families attending UC schools because they can't afford it, Godinez said.
UC Merced is unique in that it has a high a percentage of students who receive Cal Grants.
"If financial aid is on the chopping block we could see that change in the next couple of years," he added.
UC Merced officials reported that last year 84 percent of students applied for financial aid and 91 percent of those applicants received some sort of financial assistance.
One possible reality that could develop at UC campuses if financial aid isn't as available is that under-represented populations could further decline in enrollment.
Godinez said he feared that this lack of diversity could result in racial intolerance.
Last month, UC Davis, San Diego and Irvine had incidents of intolerance.
In late February, UC San Diego had reports of racism against black students.
A noose was found hanging on a bookcase in the main UC San Diego library. Also, a fraternity held a party with a racist theme, "Compton Cookout," that mocked Black History month and black culture, according to KPBS.
Two percent of UC San Diego's population is African American.
"When I first heard about the incident it came as no surprise because African Americans are an under-represented minority," Godinez said.
But Godinez said he fears that this could one day happen at UC Merced because of a lack of diversity on campus through diminished financial assistance.
Reporter Jamie Oppenheim can be reached at (209)385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.