OU students speak out and march to protest tuition raises during #RaiseHellNotTuition

Dozens of students gather for the #RaiseHellNotTuition protest. Photo courtesy of Evan Chwalek.

At noon, Ohio University students gathered at the bottom of Baker Center to participate in the #RaiseHellNotTuition demonstration.  The Ohio University Student Union organized the demonstration to protest next year’s potential rise in tuition rates through the OHIO Guarantee tuition program, or Guaranteed Tuition.  The Ohio University Board of Trustees will vote on possible hike tomorrow. (A similar protest with the same title and also organized by the Student Union was held in April of 2013, almost two years ago.)

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Protesting in the Streets

Several speakers, all of whom were either students or alumni, gave their personal stories of student debt.  After several speakers delivered their stories, the group made their way through the building and emptied out onto Court Street, where they continued to march and chant.

“Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will make the system fall” was one of the many chants by  the marching students.

Many of the demonstrating students held signs that emphasized the cause and highlighted their treatment as customers rather than students. Some of the signs at the rally read demands such as “Stop selling us out,” “Students, not customers,” “Blame the system, not the victim” and “RIP OUr future.”

The group turned right onto Washington Street, where an Athens City police officer waited for them. The officer told the marching students that they would be arrested if they continued to block the street.

After turning down South College Street and heading toward College Green, the students were followed by the police officer and blocked in front of Schoonover Center by another officer on Union Street. Both proceeded to tell the students that they would be arrested if they continued blocking the street. The group, still chanting, made their way onto College Green where they stopped and finished the day’s rally at the Civil War monument.

The demonstrating students also discussed whether they should reoccupy the streets, eventually deciding on coming back with full force tomorrow at noon on College Green. According to the Student Union’s Facebook page, three individuals were charged with “disorderly conduct,” including Student Senate President Megan Marzec.

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Personal Anecdotes

“I want us to take a moment and think about how important this is to us,” said Ryant Taylor, a senior studying English and coordinator for the Student Union.Yesterday, Taylor published a column in The Post about the demonstration and the importance of raising awareness about Guaranteed Tuition.

“After the crowd dispersed and the media left, more than a dozen cops surrounded a small group of OU Student Union members and issued charges,” the Student Union’s Facebook status said.

“I don’t view my debt as legitimate,” said sophomore student Ryan Powers, who was the first person to speak. “In order to live in this society, you have to have debt.”

He related his tale of student debt to the crowd by recalling how it was instilled in him that going to college would help him to live a more comfortable life in the future.

According to Powers, the university is “making it harder to go to and finish college” and “being complacent in debt” by raising the tuition.

The next speaker was Megan Popke, a sophomore studying pre-nursing. Popke spoke of how she too was also encouraged to go to college in order to have a better life.

“My dad, since I was knee-high, always told me to go to college and to get an education,” Popke said. She said that her family was already in debt after her mother died of cancer prior to Popke attending college and that in order to pay tuition, Popke had to work two jobs.

“We shouldn’t have to bust our asses to pay for college,” Popke said. In her speech, Popke also said that she had to change her major twice, because she wouldn’t have been able to pay back her debt once she graduated.

“I won’t be able to come back if tuition rises,” Popke said.

Michael Outrich, a junior studying geographical information sciences, told his story of student debt as a foster care student. Already over $50,000 in debt, Outrich has struggled financially during his time at OU. Without a place to go, Outrich usually stays in OU’s residential housing. Because of financial issues, Outrich was forced to take a semester leave, during which he was homeless for a time.

“I had to go to shelters in order to get a meal,” Outrich said. When he returned to school, he had to work 70 hours a week in order to sustain a living. According to Outrich, he presently has a meal plan that allows him one meal a day. His scholarships have also been cut because of his grades, which have taken a hit by how much he works.

“I want to see some transparency with the [university] budget,” Outrich said. “We [the students] should be able to vote on a raise, and they can let us know they’re going to cut.”

Tyler Barton, Athens resident and member of the International Socialist Organization, also spoke. He highlighted the issue of OU’s default rate, which is the second highest in the nation.

“Fifteen percent of students will have such a low income that they won’t be able to pay back their loans for at least 270 days after graduation,” Barton said.

As a 2012 graduate of OU, Barton said that half of his income goes to paying back loans. According to Barton, his financial situation is better off than many other students that walked with him at graduation who now live in “financial ruin” because of their student debt.

Student Senate President Megan Marzec also spoke at the demonstration. She delivered a brief history of the Student Union before she emphasized the problem with the OHIO Guarantee program.

“The Board of Trustees actually commends each other for how they treat students,” Marzec said during her speech, which earned several shouts of detest from the crowd.

In the midst of a possible tuition increase, the demonstrating students at Thursday’s protest hoped to spread awareness to current students as well as students touring the university. During today’s rally, many tour guides traveling across campus witnessed the march and many of the demonstrating students made sure to voice their pleas to the potential future students.

Stay Up to Date

Speakeasy Magazine will keep readers updated on #RaiseHellNotTuition, which will continue tomorrow at noon on College Green. Students can also receive updates on the demonstration by texting @raisehellnottuition to 235-59.

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