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Students demand wide range of changes at Million Student March

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Daily Collegian)

The lobby of the University of Massachusetts Student Union shook as roughly 250 students leapt up and down in unison, shouting chant after chant Thursday afternoon as a part of a national day of action focused on higher education reform.

Nine student groups presented demands during UMass’ Million Student March. Nearly 100 campuses nationwide held similar demonstrations, according to the event’s emcee and policy and legislative director for the Center for Educational Policy and Advocacy Filipe Carvalho.

Members of each group proudly held up posters and draped banners over the Student Union’s balcony, plastered with phrases such as, “Education is a human right,” “Involve us; It’s your job,” and “We are students; not customers.”

The national day of action centered around three demands: free universal public higher education, the cancellation of student debt and a $15 minimum wage for campus workers.

Chrissy Dasco, of CEPA’s access and affordability branch, spoke about her concern with student debt. She argued that students shouldn’t have to struggle to eat or scrape to get by just to prepare themselves for the workforce.

“A lot of people pursue higher education to learn how to live, so we will be able to live out there,” Dasco said. “We want to live out there, but we cannot do that if we’re $50,000 in the hole. We can’t do that if the money we make becomes the money they take faster than we can make dinner to feed ourselves.”

Erika Civitarese, of CEPA’s Student Labor Action Project branch, told her story of growing up as a first generation college student and working in the fast food industry for four and a half years to pull together enough money to attend college. She argued everyone deserves a $15 minimum wage, “whether it’s the workers in the Dining Commons serving your food or the janitors cleaning up your vomit on the weekends.”

In addition to the national demands, the student organizers included six UMass-specific demands: the creation a new seal and mascot because not steeped in the legacy of racism; the implementation of a survivor’s bill of rights for survivors of gender based violence on and off campus; a five percent increase in recruitment and retention of students of color at UMass over the next four years; the removal of all Sabra products from campus retail, publication of UMass’ list of their private investments and divestment from all “companies that profit off Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine;” divestment from the top 200 fossil fuel companies; and gender-neutral bathrooms in every building, more gender-neutral housing options, and the other demands listed in Gender Liberation UMass’ open letter.

Other student speakers focused on these campus-based demands. Multicultural Organizing Bureau representative Gillian Teng addressed racism on campus, demanding that students of color be provided resources that will help them navigate through the institution of higher education. One banner stated that, in 2013, 47.9 percent of students of color did not graduate.

Teng expressed concern over the safety of students of color on campus and the administration’s response.

“The safety of students of color at UMass is always compromised,” she said. “And the administration has shown time and time again that they do not take the concerns of students of color seriously.”

Andrea Nyamekye, of the UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign, demanded UMass invest in renewable sources of energy and abandon fossil fuels for the sake of the environment and the community.

“Everyone has the right to clean air and clean water. It is the right of all inhabitants of this Earth,” she told the audience.

Students for Justice in Palestine was represented by Mohamad Barham, who argued for the end of Israeli occupation in Palestinian territory, the end of treatment of Palestinians as third class civilians and allowing Palestinians to return to their homeland.

In regards to the removal of all Sabra products from campus, Barham described Sabra as, “a company that invests and helps fund the Israeli armed forces.”

He also argued that students have a right to know where their money is going and what organizations their money is being invested in.

Taylor Glickman of Gender Liberation UMass advocated for gender inclusive bathrooms “that aren’t a million miles away from our class,” as well as gender neutral housing.

“(Transgender students) want to use the bathroom we want by the end of the spring semester of 2016,” Glickman said.

The Coalition to End Rape Culture’s secretary and co-treasurer Steph George and president Priya Ghosh spoke on then necessity of a survivor’s bill of rights. They also advocated for no-contact orders for survivors of sexual assault and gender based violence.

“We demand a survivor’s bill of rights because you shouldn’t have to report to get support,” George stated. “Survivors shouldn’t have to change their majors, their classes, their housing, their life.”

“As it stands right now, one in four women will be survivors of rape and sexual assault by the time they graduate from UMass,” George said.

George and Ghosh expressed concern that there is only one Title IX coordinator for all the students at UMass.

UMass for Bernie Sanders, MASSPIRG, Student Bridges and the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts UMass Amherst Chapter were also represented.

Danny Cordova can be reached at dcordova@umass.edu. Shelby Ashline can be reached at sashline@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @shelby_ashline.

Comments
8 Responses to “Students demand wide range of changes at Million Student March”
  1. David Hunt 1990 says:

    If education is a RIGHT, that means someone else is COMPELLED to provide it. I didn’t realize the Left was going back to its pro-slavery roots.

  2. Rob says:

    Clearly the Econ department at UMass is failing. These kids don’t seem to realize that someone has to pay. And the government’s money comes from the people. It’s not some magic pile of money just sitting there.

  3. Rob says:

    While students are entitled to their political views they are not entitled to dictate university policy. You are not shareholders in a corporation; you are consumers of a product. If you do not like the product then you have the option of selecting another university that suits your agenda.
    For instance are you willing to pay MORE for your education by DEMANDING that the University divest itself of fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy sources? Also, isthe failure of students to graduate based upon their race or is it based upon performance in the classroom? Would you suggest “bonus points” be awarded to students of color in order to elevate scores?
    Finally, can someone explain how the university seal and mascot (the Minuteman) are steeped in racism?

    Years ago the mascot was the Redmen and it was changed to the Minuteman. What would you like it be be now?

  4. Gary Lapidus says:

    I would like to share some thoughts on some of the “grievances” expressed in the ongoing protests at UMass.

    With regards the affordability and cost of education, one should consider the economic value of the degree they are pursuing and the cost of acquiring that degree. For example, if one is studying Chemical Engineering then one can afford to pay off student loans as the acquired skills are worth more than the cost of the education. That’s how the world works; you want assets (education) to be worth more than the debt (student loans) used to acquire those assets. The same may not be true for all degree majors. And that’s fine if a degree major is worth less than its cost; just recognize that when pursing that degree you are essentially spending money on a hobby or avocation (i.e. consumption), not investing in an education that has long term economic value. Yes it makes you a better and more educated person, but that does not mean the numbers will necessarily add up.

    The fundamental reason that higher education costs are rising so much faster than general inflation is that the Federal government monopolizes the student loan market and is misallocating capital to the higher education market. In effect, the federal government is creating endless demand for the product (higher education) without regards to price, as there is an absence of market forces to match supply and demand and at a rational price. In short, it is the federal government that is driving up education costs to unsustainable levels through its market interference: march on Washington D.C.

    Education is not a “basic human right”. A basic “right”, e.g. free speech or liberty, is something with which you are born as (and because you are) a human being. The government does not “grant” you such rights. In fact, the Constitution explicitly states the government can not deny you your inalienable rights, not that the government must grant those rights to you; important difference. A right is something that has value to you when you exercise it, but at no cost to others. Education is not a “right” as it can only be provided to you at a significant cost to others, i.e. to pay the professors, facility costs, and administration. Should the government force professors to teach without compensation in order that you may enjoy your “right” to a free education?

  5. tweedledee says:

    Maybe if they were working on a degree that might generate some income after graduation, they’d have less time to be running around demanding more free sh*t?

  6. umassalum says:

    I’m all for students voicing their opinions and I feel that it’s a necessary part of the college experience (that is, learning to express your “voice” and what it is that you truly care about and not what your parents tell you you should care about), but all of this is getting out of hand!

    UMass fosters an environment where students feel that their opinions matter and that free thinking matters. However, the students also routinely feel that their voices are not heard and this seemingly angers them and this is brought out in what appears to be an onslaught of protests. Guess what? Your voice not being heard? THAT’S LIFE. GET THE F OVER IT. While other countries do offer free or dramatically reduced college educations, we don’t and that’s a fact of life. And while we are on a path of change that is working on changing that, it’s not changing in the immediate future. So hey, I hate to break it to you, but your 19-20 year old butt is not in a position to dictate to a major university what they charge you to attend their institution. You don’t like their tuition? DON’T ATTEND. Simple as pie.

    These universities need these funds to fund all the activities you see on a daily basis, to pay the salaries of the educators who run the classes you so diligently don’t attend, to pay the wages of the dining hall staff who feed you and your crew’s 2AM dining hall munchies, and to pay the scholarships you so desperately apply for.

    So shut up and deal with it. That’s life.

  7. David Hunt 1990 says:

    @tweedledee – touché. Majoring in “Underwater basket weaving by transgender lesbians of color” might be personally fulfilling and intellectually enriching… but can you seriously get a job from that?

  8. David Hunt 1990 says:

    @rob: You don’t UNDERSTAAAAAAAND! The “evil 1%” is an inexhaustible supplier of money that can be tapped to infinity because SOCIAL JUSTICE is why.

    The thought that systems might be dynamic and people might react to ever-more of their money being taken at gunpoint for these precious snowflakes to not have to pony up and invest their own money in their own future doesn’t cross the low-imagination crybabies who can’t fathom that the host is getting tired of the SJW tapeworms.

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