Teach-in provides forum for student activists

By Anthony Rentsch

(Zoe Mervine/Daily Collegian0
(Zoe Mervine/Daily Collegian0

On a picturesque Massachusetts Friday, sunny, crisp and clear, right in the heart of the University of Massachusetts campus, students gathered to share a different, less scenic view of UMass – the relations between administration and its students.

“Let Our Voices Be Heard: A Teach-In on Student Empowerment,” held in the Cape Cod Lounge from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. gave student groups from every walk of campus life a space to share their experience, advocate for their rights, and listen and discuss issues with other groups.

The event was marketed as a “teach-in to educate and involve students in how to have a say in their college career,” according to the event’s Facebook page. This is a view Filipe De Carvalho, a member of the Center for Educational Policy Advocacy’s Access and Affordability core team and a facilitator for the teach-in, shares.

“It’s a place where the general student body can come out and say ‘I understand things better now and I know how to get involved, or at least I have knowledge of different issues on this campus,’” De Carvalho said. “It is spurring the student body to get involved.”

Anais Surkin, co-chair of the Graduate Employment Organization and a presenter at the teach-in, also saw the value in an event like this.

“It is a space to build critical awareness and consciousness,” Surkin said. “It gives us a chance to unite and build coalitions against typical power structures to benefit all of us (students).”

While De Carvalho said that CEPA, the event’s sponsor, has been involved in planning teach-ins with other organizations in the past, the idea for this one came internally. Talk of a teach-in focused on educating students began at the start of the semester, and with some financial assistance from the Graduate Student Senate and GEO, the plan was able to become a reality.

As such, the teach-in was a bit smaller in size than some of the ones in the past that CEPA has been involved with – about three or four dozen people were present in the Cape Cod Lounge throughout the day to listen to presentations by groups including the Center for Student Businesses, GEO, Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, Women of Color Leadership Network, GSS, Stonewall Center, UMass Alliance for Community Transformation, What the FAC campaign and CEPA’s Access and Affordability and Multicultural Organizing Bureau core teams.

The smaller size of the teach-in was also conducive to the theme of educating students. Frequently throughout the day, presenters shifted the focus from them to the attendees, where they encouraged group conversation and reflection on issues of student empowerment.

Groups presented a survey of current issues on the UMass campus to illustrate what is being done and what needs to be done by student activists, as well as to highlight the interrelation of student groups’ struggles. While their specific circumstances may have been different, all of the groups focused on the same motto – that this is not the administration’s university.

“There needs to be a change in mindset,” said Santiago Vidales, a member of GEO’s bargaining committee and a presenter at the teach-in. “Decisions should be made in forums like that of the Diversity Town Hall Meeting. It should not be a top down approach.”

Anthony Rentsch can be reached at [email protected]