Armed with bold signs and printed balloons bearing handwritten messages, nearly 80 students assembled for the the national demonstration called the “Million Student March” at noon on Thursday, November 12. UCR students and supporters marched across campus to the University Village, representing the 40 million Americans that collectively share a hefty student debt toll of 1.2 trillion dollars. By the end of the march, the group grew to about 150 participants.
UC Riverside was one of many universities across the United States that participated in this march to promote three main demands: tuition-free public education, cancellation of all student debt and a demand for a $15 dollar minimum wage requirement for all campus workers.
In their campaign to endorse free public education, the protesters emphasized that the original mission of the public universities was to offer free, higher education for the masses. The march approached the HUB and the crowd paused above the courtyard to listen to third-year sociology major, Arman Azedi, give a lecture on the history of tuition. While the UC system initially had a free education plan, fees have since grown from a mere $150 dollars in 1970, according to Azedi, to a $37,000 tuition cost by 2015. His lecture compelled more students to participate in the march and vocally express their disapproval of tuition hikes by chanting, “Shame!”
Students emerged from the audience to share their perspective on the issues. As the march passed the financial aid office, fourth-year creative writing major, Emyrs Clouse, spoke in front of the group and emphasized why educational fees are problematic, “The problem with tuition is that it creates a class divide. There are so many students that want to go college but they can’t because they will come out with 20,40,60,000 dollars in debt. I am $10,000 in debt and I am one of the lucky ones.”
Civilians, parents of current UCR students as well as graduate students participated in the march. One graduate student, along with her brother and 8-month-old baby, showed support by passing out baked goods to the participants in the march. She believed that hikes in tuition fees made universities inaccessible to impoverished young people who want a higher education. “With the increase in tuition and other fees it just makes it hard for students to access the university,” the student replied.
A student parent, named Ferry, whose car was blocked on University during the demonstration was supportive of the students stating,“I’m proud of these kids, they have to do something about it. I’m a parent who pays and has two students going to school and I don’t get any help.”
Another bystander, a student who refused to state their name, was annoyed by the march, as it blocked him from leaving the 60 freeway. “We’re trying to get degrees here and this is counterproductive. You know what this is? This is just exploitation. Those kids are watching too much TV,” the student stated.
Protesters also advocated different causes and displayed them on the signs that they carried. which made general statements such as “Fund the UC” and “Education is a right not a debt sentence” to more personal messages such as “I can’t I’m broke” and “I am not a loan.” Other issues such as racism were also touched upon with signs stating “#concernedstudent1950,” and “#MSMforMiddleEast.”
Standing in solidarity with the University of Missouri
These displays also served as a call of solidarity for students of color at the University of Missouri, who have encountered a series of racist incidents. These involved racial slurs being thrown at students during demonstrations and the display of a swastika composed of human feces in the resident halls.
Another student and member of the Black Student Union, Alex Wilson, spoke out regarding the situation in Missouri. ”They say go and get your education, but going and getting your education as a black student doesn’t take away from the fact that we’re still fucking black, that people still look at us in this certain way … It’s just very important that we know the climate of what it means to be a college student. It’s not just about getting grades. It’s never been about getting grades. This is where social movements happen,” Wilson explained.
ASUCR’s Vice President of External Affairs, Mohamed “Momo” Hussein joined these issues with the experiences of being an African-American student in Riverside. “Being black in the UC means I gotta go to all of my fucking meetings with admin and do extra meetings and extra homework because I’m black and they aren’t taking me seriously,” Hussein voiced to the crowd.
Supporters wore black to symbolically “black out” the racist issues in Missouri. Bystanders and protesters showed support and agreement by chorusing “Shame!” throughout the two men’s speeches.
By the end of the march, balloons, flyers, t-shirts and influential personal messages had been distributed across the campus and across University Ave. As the procession made its way through campus, it picked up supporters. The crowd almost doubled when it reached the University Village.
Alex Wilson is a contributing writer for the Highlander.