Student protesters were arrested in Wisconsin and California. Oakland students caused a California freeway to be closed. Nationwide, students and faculty united in protest for the March 4 National Day of Action for Public Education.
At VCU about 30 students and professors spoke out.
Members of Students for Social Action sponsored a rally for the national movement Thursday afternoon, which was held in the University Student Commons Plaza. The rally drew a small crowd of students, who listened to student and faculty speakers.
Several students read poems, sang songs and other student organization members joined the rally to show their support. SSA members gathered signatures for a petition against education cuts, which they will submit to the main offices of the General Assembly.
“I didn’t think the cuts would affect us but they do and it seems like no one cared,” said Ashley Collier, the president of SSA and a senior sociology major. “I went into the commons to tell people to come out but only one person came up to me and asked, ‘They’re going to raise tuition?’ ”
However, Collier said the rally did “kind of spring up” and despite the SSA’s publicity efforts, the short notice might have affected the turnout.
Collier said in order to organize the rally, SSA members had to go through a lot of “bureaucratic hoops.” Group members had to obtain a permit to hold the rally in the plaza, publicize the rally and tend to other formalities. She said SSA tried to involve other student organizations but none were able to co-sponsor the rally.
Nantasha Williams, Student Government Association senator and junior political science major, said, like the SGA, other student organizations were aware of the rally but chose not to participate.
Williams said a lot of the organizations might have been doing “their own thing” for the national movement and the lack of participation was not perceived to have caused tense relations.
Ava Stone, an SSA member and a sophomore Spanish major, said SSA expected a larger turnout but agreed the SSA is still on good terms with their fellow student organizations. She said the main objective was to reach students, which they did.
“The national movement is beautiful but it’s not so big on the East Coast,” Stone said. “We want to prepare the student body. If it’s happening in California, VCU is not immune to cuts or program cuts.”
Shawn Utsey, a professor of African-American studies, spoke at the rally. He said the rally addressed the budget cuts and students’ development as responsible citizens.
“The budget cuts are very important and affect (students) directly and affect all of us directly, but I also like to see students get involved and be proactive and have a sense of agency,” Utsey said. “I’m really impressed with the students’ commitment to this issue, that someone is standing up to speak out. I’m saddened by the lack of participation of other students. I don’t think they understand how important this is and how it affects their future livelihood but I’m hopeful.”
Omid Khanzadeh, a junior English major, read several poems at the start of the rally to support education and try to pump up student involvement.
“No one really knows about the financial issues that we have,” Khanzadeh said. “I think people need to do more research on it because it affects us all.”
Josh Haskins, a mass communications and political science double major, performed two songs at the rally.
“It’s great to know that we have a group of people that are revolutionary in their pursuit of change and protest,” Haskins said.
Stone shared that uplifting sentiment. She said the budget cuts are going to be a longer-term problem and people will continue to advocate for education and fight budget cuts.
“It’s the start to a campaign that’s not going to stop,” Stone said.