Students for Quality Education (SQE) and the Queer Student Union (QSU) joined forces during the Open House Campus Showcase Saturday to protest rising fees and social inequalities on campus.
The group of about 20 students advocated against issues such as the rising costs of attendance, unaffordable housing costs, a hostile campus climate for marginalized students and a culture of leadership that seeks to postpone the problems the school is facing.
The protest began at noon at the steps of Robert E. Kennedy Library (building 35) where they marched through the crowd of clubs, stopping to assemble at Dexter Lawn. While there, the protesters shouted chants such as, “When education is under attack — what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” on a megaphone.
Protest organizer and SQE member Mick Bruckner said the protest was primarily in response to Senators Bernie Sanders’ and Elizabeth Warren’s recent calls for rallies on every campus across the nation for free tuition. The senators introduced a bill Monday that would make college tuition free for families earning $125,000 a year or less and allows current student loan borrowers to refinance at lower interest rates.
“Today is about demanding that university leaders stand with us to better our higher education system and Cal Poly,” political science junior Bruckner said.
Protesters also distributed a flyer that circulated online for the past several months titled “Cal Poly Fact Book: Student Edition,” listing problems that have occurred under Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong. Claims include that fees have risen more than 60 percent, 40 percent of black staff left the university in the past year and one in four students have considered leaving. Mustang News fact checked all of their claims below.
The organizers said it was no accident that their protest occurred during Open House weekend. Morgan Grace, graphic communication senior and QSU vice president of communications, said they hoped protesting around prospective students will help expedite their message to the administration.
“Open House is primarily an event for prospective student to see what Cal Poly is like,” Grace said. “We felt that it would be fair for them to know what it is like being part of the campus community.”
Spectators commented that their presence undermined what the day was about: getting admitted students excited about Cal Poly.
“I think it’s a little ridiculous and obnoxious,” environmental science freshman Gabe Worthington said. “I agree with what they are saying, but it’s not what Open House is about.”
While the organizations think the protest was successful, QSU and SQE said they encountered more push back than they expected.
“We found it interesting that a lot of the push back was from people assuming that we were representing partisan values,” Grace said. “These are real problems that are affecting real people.”
Bruckner said he came in contact with a father of an admitted student who called Bruckner a “brat” because he — the father — paid his way through college.
“This highlights really big misunderstanding[s],” Bruckner said. “When he attended a CSU [California State University], it was a fraction of the cost. It used to only take four to six hours of [minimum wage] work a week to pay for tuition.”
While SQE in particular has received a significant response statewide from the CSU board of trustees, Cal Poly organizers said they haven’t heard recently from the administration about the issues they are advocating for.
“We hope that they will stand with us in the future in fighting for free accessible higher education for all,” Bruckner said.