“Taking back campus”

By Chelsea Whitton

Student Strike Brian Tedder CollegianThe student strike in the fall of 2007 may not have been long-lived, but after two years of production, a University of Massachusetts student is ready to premiere “Taking Back Campus,” a documentary on the strike. 

Directed by Rosie Walunas, a junior at UMass majoring in journalism with double minors in film studies and international relations, the documentary chronicles the two days of the student run strike that took place in November 2007. Walunas described the process as one that began her freshman year, while learning and working at UVC-19 television. The documentary will premiere Thursday night and is Walunas’ first documentary. She is currently producing her second film.

For about two months in early fall 2007, Walunas started to become skilled with basic filmmaking equipment. At the time, Walunas said she didn’t set out looking to start a documentary, but the opportunity presented itself­­­­ as a group of students fighting for a set of rights. “I started filming the strike events not knowing I was filming for a documentary in the making,” said Walunas. Walunas described the process as quite a trial at times, sorting through over 20 hours of footage. As for the actual shooting, Walunas said, “shooting it was easy, all I had to do was show up.”

The strike organizers saw rises in support when student government members and other students decided to strike against the UMass administration for what Walunas described as “four significant reasons.” 

The first desired action and motivation for the striking students was the removal of UMass police from dorms. Undercover police dressed in casual student wear, as well as officers dressed in uniform, made their presence known in some form in dorms all across campus. The participating students felt as if the police and UMass authority were over-stepping their limits and power. 

Secondly, the increasing fees included on student bursar bills have been rising steadily in recent years, and with that came increased attention to the issue and cause for concern. Also on the strikers’ agenda was the invasion of space in administrative measures. They felt the student body was being imposed upon by administration officers and organizations.  Private vendors and private events were taking spaces like the Cape Cod Lounge the striking students believed that the Cape Cod Lounge and other places should be used for student run functions. 

Lastly, Walunas described that the striking students brought up issues with the fundamentals of diversity in the University system. The students in the documentary describe that student groups were not being evenly funded, and that certain ethnicities were not being reached out to, when others were.

After the two-day strike the students, “expressed feelings that the administrative response was zero, and they didn’t care about the issues at hand,” Walunas said.   

Walunas explained that though she filmed the documentary through the eyes of a student, she did not participate in the student strike, and didn’t take a stance on administrative standards or student views. Instead, Walunas saw the filming process and documentary as an opportunity to portray a movement for change on the UMass campus, and as a way to depict the demand for student reform.

“Overall, the film has turned into a model to feature the impact mass movements may or may not have,” Walunas said, “I hope that it comes as an inspiration to the students, administrators, and educators.”

“Taking Back Campus” is a compilation of footage of the strike featuring the concern of the students, the response of the administration, and in some cases fear by the administration. Walunas described former Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life, Michael Gargano, as avoiding contact with the striking students, hiding from the masses and from the camera, as well as refusing to address students’ wide-spread concern.

The premiere will conclude with a question and answer session with Director Rosie Walunas, and also students involved with the strike.

 Acting interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs and Campus Life, Jean Kim will be in attendance. This is the first screening of the documentary. “Taking Back Campus” will be shown tonight, Oct. 1, 2009 in the Cape Cod Lounge at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Chelsea Whitton can be reached at [email protected].