Students participate in walkout, protest multiple UMass issues

By Steffi Porter

Steady snowfall did not stop approximately 50 student activists and members of the community from gathering on the steps of the Student Union at the University of Massachusetts yesterday for a student walkout.

Justin Surgent/Collegian

The protesters marched from the Student Union to University Health Services and then to Whitmore Administration building where they performed a brief skit in the lobby, demonstrating their discontentment with the cost of public higher education.

The participants were protesting a variety of issues including student debt, the proposed cuts to UHS and changes to Residential Life.

“We’re protesting the cuts in services, cuts in jobs and rise in fees,” said UMass alumni Shavahn Vest, who graduated in 1997. “We’re going to try to raise awareness to start serving the needs of the students and stop serving the needs of the overpaid administration.”

The protests were happening as part of the National Day of Action for Education, a nationwide walkout sponsored by the Occupy Movement.

After gathering outside of UHS, the activists continued to Whitmore where they performed a short skit in the lobby. It depicted Bank of America competing in an auction against the students of UMass.

At the end of the auction, Bank of America outbid the students and purchased Whitmore, which was followed by booing from the protesters.

The group then took to the stairs and initiated a sit-in outside the Chancellor Robert Holub’s office. Deputy Chancellor Todd Diacon was present during the sit-in, and said he was there to listen to their concerns for the chancellor.

While marching through campus, student protesters led the group in various chants including “Hey UMass you can’t hide, we can see your greedy side,” and “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.”

While they gathered before the steps of UHS, approximately five employees came outside in support.

Among the employees was Kathy Rhines, a UHS manager who has made appearances at several protests this semester and last.

“It is your university. It is your health. Thank you for coming out. You are greatly appreciated,” said Rhines, addressing the crowd.

UMass senior Emily Regan had her own reasons for coming to the protest. She said her job prospects – despite working hard and achieving a double major – are bleak.

“I’ve got a lot of student debt. I’m looking for a job, which isn’t going so good,” said Regan. “I’m kind of pissed that I might have to live with my parents next year. The student debt is ridiculous and really out of proportion.”

UMass junior Kyle Mendes is a member of the student organization Involve Us, which he said was created after the Residential Life changes and the elimination of the peer mentor positions were announced last semester.

“We’re trying to help support these kinds of movements as well as support student voice on campus and get students involved in decisions on campus,” said Mendes.

According to Mendes, he came to the walkout to protest everything from UHS changes and fee increases to residence life changes.

Among the community members protesting was Marjorie Ewing, a local activist from Belchertown.

Ewing carried a hallowed-out gourd labeled “Mr. One Percent, No Heart, Big Noise,” which was decorated in beads. Ewing also carried a large sign that read “I am the 99 percent.”
“It’s the kids going hungry – no jobs, it’s a lot of things,” said Ewing on why she has been participating in the Occupy Movement since it first reached the Amherst area.

Another participant, senior Joseph Guvendiren chose yesterday to attend his first UMass protest, after experiencing one Occupy protest in Boston back when the movement was just beginning.

Guvendiren called the decision-making process among the UMass administration “hypocritical” and helped other protesters hold up a sign that said “Occupy UMass.”

The walkout was organized by Occupy UMass and Occupy Education, whose goals for the protest included getting students “out of the classrooms and into the streets.”

Steffi Porter can be reached at [email protected]