Higher Ed, Metro

Occupiers protest student burdens

Contributing Writer
Friday, March 2, 2012


Braving snow and downtown traffic, Occupy Rhode Island Campuses held their first inter-campus event last night. The organization, which includes students from Brown, the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and Providence College, staged the March to Defend Education and a rally in conjunction with 59 campuses across the country. 

The goal of Occupy R.I. Campuses is to raise awareness about the hardships facing students in all levels of education and the flaws in both the private and public education systems. 

Cedric de Leon, sociology professor at Providence College, addressed the group of about 60 students, staff and faculty from across the state as the snow continued to fall. 

“The only reason why the rest of the college students in the world pay less tuition than you guys is because they fought, and you didn’t,” de Leon said. “They organized, and you took out more student loans.” 

De Leon said the Occupy movement represents the first time students have mobilized nationally to fight the increasing cost of education.

URI Professor Helen Mederer, who participated in a teach-in last week, said she believes faculty should play a role in championing students’ rights. Mederer said families are footing the bill for educating and preparing new workers when “corporations should be investing more in the skill acquisition of the next generation.”  

The crowd marched toward Shepard Building, which houses the Board of Governors for Higher Education as well as URI’s Providence campus. Marching down the middle of Westminster Street, the organizers chanted, “Tell me what democracy looks like!” while others responded, “This is what democracy looks like!”

“We have to find a way to fund education fairly. That means rethinking the way we fund everything else,” said Servio Gomez, an RIC student and a member of the Occupy movement. 

Mari Miyoshi ’12 was one of about 20 Brown students present at the event. “I’m in a very special place at Brown,” Miyoshi said, adding that it seems “fundamentally unfair” that people in a lower socioeconomic position must pay more than she does to attend a public university. 

Gomez said he was happy with the diversity of the turnout and encouraged the high school students in attendance to share what they perceive as the biggest barriers to their higher education.

Giovanni Larracuente, a junior at Times Squared Academy and a member of Youth in Action, spoke about the consequences of new high school graduation requirements. Students must prove proficiency on the New England Common Assessment Program to graduate. Standing outside the offices of the Board of Governors of Higher Education, Larracuente said, “It seems like they’re making it harder and harder for us to graduate, get out of here and move on to something better.”

Gomez and the organizers from the other four campuses are planning an event in solidarity with the international day of action May 1. 

Members of the Occupy Brown group hope to organize another teach-in before then.

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