Amherst Wire

Million Student March demands change in higher education

(Fleshmanpix/Flickr)

(Fleshmanpix/Flickr)

Stephanie Murray, Writer

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Students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst will take part in a Million Student Marches, a national movement to address college affordability on more than 100 university campuses across the country this Thursday, Nov. 12. The hour-long demonstration will begin at 12:30 p.m. in front of the Student Union.

“We’re standing together as one solidified student body saying, ‘We need change now,’” said Charlotte Kelly, a senior political science major, and one of 15 students organizing the demonstration.

Kelly explained that the idea for the Million Student March came from a statement made by Democratic presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in an interview with Katie Couric for Yahoo News in June.

“If a million young people march on Washington and say to the Republican leadership… ‘You better vote to deal with student debt, you better vote to make public universities and colleges tuition free,’ that’s when it will happen,” said Sanders.   

The idea caught on.

“Since we have so much student loan debt and don’t have the money to go to D.C., we can do it on our campuses and have a million students out across the country demonstrating for free higher education,” Kelly said.  

Demonstrators have three demands: free public higher education, elimination of all student debt and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers. UMass students will also be making campus-specific demands, including gender neutral bathrooms and housing on campus; an increase in retention and recruitment of students of color; and fossil fuel divestment.

The demonstration is intended to be a “targeted” one-hour event, Kelly said. It will start with a 15-minute political theater-style dodgeball game. A student team will be matched up against a team of “big corporations,” who have all the balls and outnumber their opponents.

It is meant to show students that they can win against these big corporations if they stand together. Onlookers will be invited to join the student team and fight with the movement, ultimately winning the dodgeball game.

“It’s a literal representation of what the student movement needs to do,” Kelly said.

After that, feature speakers from student organizations at the university will give talks about demanding change. These groups include UMass Fossil Fuel Divestment, Coalition to End Rape Culture (CERC), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Multicultural Organizing Bureau (MOB), Gender Liberation UMass (GLU), and more. Though the names of the speakers have not been released, most will be undergraduates.

“This is a demonstration that represents a multitude of views and a multitude of issues. We’re strongest when we stand as one united student force,” Kelly said.

UMass organizers decided to include these campus-specific causes along with the national demands as a way to encourage student organizations to stand together, rather than strictly focus on their individual issues.  

The last 15 minutes will be “up for grabs.” Students can play more dodgeball, march or continue to talk.

Organizers are hoping for a large student turnout and planned it strategically for when classes get out at 12:45 on Thursday. Roughly 500 students have said they plan to attend on the #MillionStudentMarch Facebook page.

Kelly said that she hopes the demonstration creates more on-campus awareness and activism at UMass, though she recognizes that movements take years, and the success of the fight for free higher education will not be “instantaneous.”

“Students here at UMass and across the country are recognizing that the system we have right now isn’t working… it’s not made for the general public,” said Kelly. “We can take back our university and make it for students by students.”

Email Stephanie Murray at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @StephMurr_Jour.

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Million Student March demands change in higher education