Dozens of students, faculty members, alumni, and community members took to the street on the evening of February 28 to protest Virginia Commonwealth University’s acquisition of the Mansion 534 building on February 8.
The event, which was organized by VCUarts Adjuncts Organizing for Fair Pay, Students for Equal Adjunct Pay and Young Democratic Socialists at VCU, was the second demonstration regarding this issue to take place in less than a week.
Demonstrators held a banner stating “End VCU’s gentrification” and handed out fliers to the multitudes passing by the intersection of Broad St. and Harrison St. en route to the Siegel Center for the VCU men’s basketball game.
“VCU bought another building for $3.5 million. Yet VCU adjunct faculty are still not paid living wages and student tuition continues to rise,” the fliers stated. “We demand a real estate acquisition freeze until all adjuncts are paid fairly and VCU student tuition rates are locked.”
In May 2017, the VCU Board of Visitors approved a 3.8% tuition increase – which is equivalent to $494 – for in-state undergraduate students for the 2017-2018 academic year. For out-of-state students, there was a 4.2% increase, leaving them paying $1,369 more than they had to during 2016-2017.
As for adjunct art faculty, they are paid $1,000 per credit hour. Despite the increase from the previous semester’s $800 per credit hour wage, this amount is still only half of the national average of $2000 per credit hour.
“What do we want?” “Fair pay.” “When do we want it?” “Yesterday,” the crowd chanted.
An adjunct art faculty member at the protest who chose to go by the name Will brought up the university’s Master Plan – ONE VCU, which was unveiled in February.
“They’re talking about expanding and they’re spending lots of money on architecture consultants and urban planning while there are massive wage discrepancies between the faculty,” Will said. “We think that VCU should be focusing on the citizens of Richmond and try to make their lives better than trying to bring in outsiders and do this kind of expansion.”
Another protestor, VCU alumnus Goad Gatsby, said he hopes the protests will end what has been VCU’s “really bad process” of buying properties, from its $2.5 million purchase of the former Sahara restaurant in 2016 and its $2.82 million purchase of the New York Pizza fast food building in 2017 to, now, the Mansion building acquisition.
“There needs to be a smarter way of going about doing this. I think there needs to be student input before these decisions are made,” Gatsby said.
The groups’ work is not done; they are gathering again for a meeting on March 16 to organize and discuss how to make equity a priority at VCU.
According to Will, just raising awareness makes a huge difference.
“That’s why we’re here. To hand out information. Wake the people up.”
Maryum Elnasseh, Contributing Writer