Protestors Demand OU Officials’ Attention on Student Debt, Fracking
On Thursday, March 1, Ohio University joined over 80 other universities nationwide in an organized attempt to take back the right to an affordable education.
Colleges such as the University of California, Harvard University, University of Pittsburgh and the University of Texas joined in the Occupy Education movement and staged various forms of walk-outs, protests, rallies and teach-ins to protest state and national cuts to higher education.
Jacob Chaffin, one of the main organizers and a speaker at the rally, said, “The problems we face are too dire to sit on these issues and think that maybe they’ll just fix themselves if we wait long enough. The problems never fix themselves. It is only when we stand up and fight back, that we are able to make a change.”
His words were taken to heart when over 100 students showed up on College Green to listen to students speak about topics such as student debt, fracking and conflict-free minerals.
Jared Henderson, the first presenter to speak, had a lot to say about the Student Senate body as a whole.
“Last fall, we went to Student Senate meetings and demanded they pass a resolution against SB 5 and Kasich’s war on public sector unions. And Student Senate said ‘no.’ Students came over a course of several weeks, asking for it to at least come on to the agenda,” Henderson said. “Student Senate continued to say no. How can it be the case that the people we elect refuse to represent our interests?”
He then went on to ask the crowd if they knew any of the four Senators who represented them: their green Senator, their college Senator, the at-large Senator and the executive board. When most of the crowd was silent, he asked, “If you don’t know who they are, how can they be representing your interests? How can they be representing what you believe?”
Megan Marzec was the next speaker to represent STAND Against Genocide. She detailed the organization’s 17-month long fight for the connection between conflict minerals mined in the Congo and consumption of electronics to be recognized by the administration and Board of Trustees.
“Seventeen months into our campaign and 760,000 civilian deaths in the Congo, we have begun to expect more cancellations and postponements than meetings that suggest mutual respect between administrators and students on campus,” Marzec said about the group’s attempt to bring administrators’ attention to the issue.
Marzec also talked about the refusal of the Board of Trustees to listen to STAND’s requests. “Tom Davis [Secretary to the Board of Trustees] has instructed Board members to never return any form of contact that we have made. In a phone message received by STAND leaders, he said ‘that is not their role and it is not really something they should be doing.’ Apparently listening to students is not the Board of Trustees’ job.”
Sasha Milliken and Camille Scott, from Ohio University Students Against Fracking, were there to talk about the Ohio’s current legislation to legalize fracking on public lands. H.B 133 opens up all public land, including OU’s land, to be explored for coal and oil.
“Athens sits on top of the Hocking aquifer, which supplies all of Athens’ water, so if anything goes wrong, we’re in a lot of trouble,” said Scott.
Allison Hight was next to talk about the DREAM Act, which would give the children of illegal immigrants the right to go to college and have at least a six year residency in the U.S.
“The DREAM act affects nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants,” she said.
Tyler Barton was there to talk about the issue of student debt. “When I came to OU my freshman year, I found out that I had to take out a loan to stay in college, and I learned a lot from that,” he said.
“I learned about how universities, banks, and the government work together to exploit students. I learned a lot about how banks make massive profits off of students, even though they contribute nothing to their education,” said Barton.
He said there are many banks and corporations that have a lot of financial interest in making sure that students take out these loans. “They’re preying on people because they’re young, they know that in order to get a job in this economy, you have to have a college education,” he said.
Jacob Chaffin was the last to speak on the issue of student empowerment.
“What matters is that we are all here today. We are all now fighting in the struggle for student power. And we are not alone at Ohio University. We are together with students from across this country,” he said.
After the student speeches were over, about half of the rally attendees lined up to march. They marched down Court Street toward Baker Center, then turned and continued down Park Place toward Gordy Hall. Once there, they marched down Morton, chanting “Whose university? Our university!” and “Student power is under attack! What do we do? Stand up, fight back!” After marching through East Green, the marchers climbed up Jeff Hill and cut through College Green. Upon reaching the middle of the green, they filed up to Cutler Hall.
After being denied entry by an OUPD policeman, protestors led by Ellie Hamrick stood outside of Cutler and delivered this message to President McDavis:
“We, the students of OU, demand a university that is socially and environmentally responsible. We demand a university that acknowledges that students have legitimate power. We demand a university that acknowledges that education is a right, a university that calls for free higher education for all. We will not stop, until all of these demands are met in full. Power to the students!”
After leaving the president with this message, the students went through Baker Center and back up again, chanting, “What do we want? Student rights! When do we want them? Now!”
The march ended at the top of Baker Center.
After the march, Henderson said, “I’m really excited about how the march turned out. I would love to see an actual response to this even if it’s just the administration saying we acknowledge your concerns, because with this administration, that would be a massive step forward.”
Protestor Ben Francis said, “Students protesting through the streets and marching through the greens is a sign that the university has not been listening to us. We would not be protesting if the administration had been taking the steps, and measures to interact with students and meet student goals.”
“The reason I did this is because I shouldn’t be going into thousands of dollars of debt every year just to get an education so I can pull myself out of poverty,” she said.