A few hundred students gathered yesterday at 1 p.m. in the South Park Blocks at Portland State for the National Day of Action to Defend Education.
Students at hundreds of other campuses across the country participated in the day of action in some way, according to www.defendeducation.org.
At PSU, 11 different groups, including the ASPSU Executive Branch, Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights, and Students for Unity and Northwest Student Coalition, sponsored the student walkout. Live music was played by Piñata, David Rovics and the Powder Keg marching band. The rally ended mid-afternoon with a group march from the Park Blocks to Southwest Market Street and Sixth Avenue, then down Southwest College Street and through Smith Memorial Student Union and Neuberger Hall.
Student leaders, musicians and professors spoke to the crowd about the need to keep education accessible.
The crowd held signs that read things such as “keep PSU affordable” and “Wim’s restructure plan equals higher tuition.”
ASPSU Chief of Staff Zaki Bucharest was one of the speakers. He began by quoting the Black Panther Party’s 10-point program from 1972.
“We want education that teaches us our true history…we believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self,” he said.
“We love to judge but hate to fight,” Bucharest said, making clear that he aims to fight ignorance.
However, not all students felt represented by the event.
“Nobody let me go up, nobody asked for my opinion,” said freshman Alex Geer. “I didn’t feel like there was any sense of community.”
When freshman Sabrina Herrera was asked about the rally, she said she “wasn’t aware there was one—where was it?”
Other students complained that the march through the halls of buildings was disruptive to their class time.
PSU student Timothy Moss, who is also a spoken word artist, asked the crowd: “Knowledge is power…[but] does knowledge control power?”
Moss says he supports education, but needs help from the university to be able to afford the cost of higher education.
Black Studies professor Dr. Darrell Millner told the audience that he had both good and bad news.
“The good news is change can occur,” Millner said.
Millner said that positive change in the U.S. includes the end of black slavery, giving women the right to vote and electing President Obama.
“[The bad news is that] it’s never easy,” Millner said.
He told the crowd that fighting for affordable education would require “hard work and sacrifice” and warned of “lots of enemies” as barriers.
ASPSU Funding and Outreach Coordinator Tasha Triplett acted as the mic controller for the event. Triplett said she is majoring in liberal arts and sciences, and is also minoring in Black Studies.
She is the second person in her family to attend college and that she values having a college degree someday. She worries about future university restructuring having a negative effect on minority students like her being able to afford or obtain a college degree, she said.
Like all PSU students, Triplett received an e-mail from President Wim Wiewel the night before the event, in he acknowledges the rally and says he shares “the students’ passion for reinvestment in higher education.”
Triplett said she hoped that Wiewel “will put his money where his mouth is and invest in students by not raising tuition.”
She does not want the administration to be autonomous, and she wants “students to have a say [in the process of restructuring].”
Excerpt from an e-mail sent by President Wim Wiewel to students on March 3
“The state subsidy for public higher education in Oregon has declined by 40 percent in real terms over the past two decades. At PSU, state funding now accounts for only 16 percent of total annual operating revenue compared to 48 percent 20 years ago. As a result, today’s students, families and financial aid programs pick up a greater share of the cost, paying $6,400 in tuition and fees per-year compared to $1,540 per-year 20 years ago.”
Excerpt from e-mail sent by ASPSU President Jonathan Sanford to students about the rally
“We will be rallying around the messages:
– No more tuition hikes
– No more cutting of faculty salary and benefits
We demand to fully fund public education now; to bail out schools, not banks; to educate, not incarcerate; and to put schools, jobs, and communities first.”