Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Student organizations come together to condemn acts of racism and push for change

(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)
(Shannon Broderick/Daily Collegian)

Members of the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, Student Bridges and affiliated organizations at the University of Massachusetts came together Thursday for a rally and a series of demonstrations in response to recent racist incidents on campus, and to advocate for increased diversity and affordability at UMass.

The demonstrations included two banner drops – one in the Southwest tunnel in support of increased Pell Grants, the other in the Student Union addressing the retention of students of color on campus – as well as a rally in support of students who have been affected by three recent racist vandalisms in residential halls.

“Today was originally planned to be a couple demonstrations around recruitment and retention issues on campus,” said Jishava Patel, UMass senior, and organizing and training director of CEPA. “And then as this past week happened, there were also a series of hate crimes and vandalisms that happened on campus. We felt it was urgent to incorporate it into today, as well.”

The first demonstration, which took place at noon in the Southwest Residential Area, advocated for more federal need-based grants awarded to low-income students.

According to UMass junior and CEPA Access and Affordability Team member Filipe Carvalho, 40 percent of Hispanic students and nearly 50 percent of African American students use Pell Grants toward higher education nationwide.

However, due to funding cuts, the percentage of the cost of a four-year degree covered by the Pell Grant has dropped from 77 percent in 1980 to 31 percent in 2014.

Patel said the organization’s goal is to increase current funding for the Pell Grant by 150 percent, and to increase the minimum required income bracket to qualify for the grant from $23,000 to $32,000 – as it was before the Pell Grant was cut two years ago.

“By doing those things, the University and the federal education department can, in turn, ensure that more students, especially students of color and working-class, first generation students, are able to access and afford higher education,” Patel said.

“We not only want to increase enrollment on campus, but we want to be able to allow students to graduate by letting them afford school,” Carvalho added.

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

A second banner drop in the Student Union addressed retention rates of students of color at UMass. In 2013, only 47.9 percent of students of color graduated, as opposed to 88 percent of white students, according to Patel.

“It’s a really huge issue that I don’t think a lot of people really are aware of,” said Emily Belko, director of CEPA’s Multicultural Organizing Bureau.

“We believe that this is closely linked to the fact that students of color don’t have that many support systems on campus,” Patel said. “(Systems) are not properly funded, they’re not given the right amount of resources or the right amount of attention that they need to be able to appropriately and successfully accommodate students of color.”

She added that CEPA is working in conjunction with Student Bridges to ask for a five percent increase in the admission and recruitment of students of color to the University in the next three to five years.

The organizations’ three main goals, she said, are to change the current 50-50 split of need and merit-based scholarships to 75 percent need-based and 25 percent merit-based; increase funding to cultural RSOs, bringing them to a tier-one status; and the disaggregation of racial data collected by the University and the admissions office.

An example of this sort of disaggregation, Belko said, would be to separate the box students check off if they’re Asian into different categories, including South Asian, East Asian, Southeast Asian, etc.

“Asians constitute one-third of the world’s population,” she said. “It’s not entirely comprehensive.”

CEPA and Student Bridges concluded the demonstrations with a rally in the Student Union, which was attended by several hundred people, many of them dressed in black shirts, which read “UMass Stands Against Racism.”

“For those of you that don’t know, three of our students have been direct victims of racist vandalism on their doors,” said Maija Hall, Black Student Union event coordinator, at the rally.

“It’s a shame, it’s actually really sad that it took such a crime, such a horrible act of hatred to bring this many students out,” added BSU President Caylee Clarke. “It personally disgusts me that this hatred has happened, however, this is not the first time,” she continued. “But it is at times like this that we realize that there is power in numbers and that the power, our power, the power of the people here, is stronger than the people in power.”

Other speakers included Belko and Carvalho, members of the Graduate Employee Organization and Student Bridges, and several students.

“People of color built this country, and we are not getting our due,” said Zafar Nizami, member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

UMass junior Tim Gustave also took the stage to announce his idea to place inspirational stickers on people’s doors, instead of messages of hate.

“I think the only way to combat hatred is to spread love,” he said to a cheering crowd.

Aviva Luttrell can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @AvivaLuttrell.

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