On March 1, 2012, the third floor of Main Hall was quiet at 11 a.m. Students sat idly inside their classes, preparing for the day’s lessons. However, outside of Main Hall was a different story.
Dubbed “The Walk Out,” students were encouraged to walk out of their classrooms to protest against the 20% budget cuts that Gov. Corbett proposed for public higher education. Not only will these budget cuts affect WCU, but all PASSHE schools, and community colleges will also be suffer from budget cuts as well.
Students held signs that said “Knowledge is Our Only Freedom” and “You Can’t Afford These Cuts” in order to gain attention to the cause. Students even reported running around Anderson Hall to get students to leave their classrooms in support of the rallies.
“We got a lot of work to do and it starts with telling everybody about it,” one student said.
Students marched to Main Hall from all different corners of the campus, screaming in unison “Our education is under attack! What do we do? Fight back!”
Faculty representatives from APSCUF (Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties) were also outside Main Hall trying to get students to sign post cards that will be mailed to Gov. Corbett and representatives.
“We are staffing this table to give students an opportunity to send a postcard to Gov. Corbett and sign a petition,” Dr. Karen Fitts, Associate Professor in the English Department, said.
Fitts also had posters about the rally to inform students as well. “I think in general, it is more a matter of providing space and time for students to talk back and do what literate people do in a democracy,” Fitts said.
Dr. Fitts said that she teaches a class titled “Propaganda, Power, and Politics.” She gave her students a written assignment to browse Gov. Corbett’s description of the budget cuts on his website. She encouraged students to look at Gov. Corbett’s language and his persuasion and to also attend the rally and listen to what the activists that are for education had to say.
Students marched up High Street, University Avenue, and Church Street, gathering supporters as they went along, chanting, “out of the classrooms, into the streets!” Public Safety police officers were on the scene for safety reasons during both rallies. Students for Ron Paul were even at the rally, trying to gain support for Republican Presidential Candidate.
As the crowd chanted, they blocked traffic several times to cross High Street, the lead directed them off-campus and then back on-campus. The crowd headed down University Avenue. The crowd moved off the sidewalks and marched in the streets, as a literal stance to their chant.
Once the march reached Church Street, students began to chant “this is what democracy looks like!” People even stood outside of buildings to witness the march as they led through the Residential Quad.
After marching around campus, students were back at the Academic Quad to let their voices be heard. Students from all class-years rallied for the present and future students of public education, chanting “tell me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
For fourth-year professional and women’s and gender Studies major, Cherelle Davis, the budget cuts do have an effect.
“I think for the future, even though I am not a citizen of this country yet, but I will be, for my future, for my kids, for when I go to graduate school, it is going to be difficult,” Davis said. She is afraid that if she doesn’t save enough money for herself or for her children, they won’t be able to get the quality education that she had. Davis is even afraid to rely on scholarships because “if they are doing budget cuts, it means scholarships are going to be cut too and it is going to be harder to pay for school.”
Whilst students were chanting, faculty member, Dr. Simon Ruchti asked students to allow Ruchti to speak.
“So I’m a professor here. I have no right to speak at this rally. I thank you for giving me permission. You’ve all walked out of your classes and those of you who didn’t, you showed up anyway,” Ruchti said. “For those that don’t know how the university system works, some might say that you are neglecting your education, but I would say you learned a great deal out here today. I would say as your professor, I’ve learned so much from your actions, that I’ve been schooled by you.” Students then marched again around campus, ending the “Walk Out” rally with student confessionals.
“Last semester, I was told to stop asking questions in class because the class was just too big!” one student said. “And I don’t know about you guys but that is not the reason I came to college. I came here to learn, not to be silenced!”
One student encouraged other students to fight for their future and to not “let them take it from you!”
“So right now we have an attack on our education system by a governor who doesn’t know us!” Matthew Hissey, a fourth-year political science major, said. “They are cutting our future and stealing it away from us! We want to come here and learn and we want to be able to be productive in the future. This union is a state union! That is a good thing! State unions are positive and they protect our futures. They make it so that we have the best curriculums in the state.”
Students are concerned about their education and cuts on different academic programs. One student in particular had something to say:
“My major was cut! I want to be able to teach people what I love and for them to be able to learn more when they reach college,” second-year Latin major, Hannah Peters said.
One student talked about his long journey to West Chester. He finally got into WCU after three years and spent countless minutes fighting for some type of financial aid. He was angered because he only received $500 to help with tuition and supply costs. “I am here to fight for my education,” he said.
Several students who watched the activities but did not join the march said they found the walk-out to be counterproductive. Students who remained in their classrooms reported the loud noise interrupted their class as they were unable to hear their professor during the times of the protests.
One student retorted they did not care to join the protest because if the proposed budget cut is accepted, it will not personally affect them due to their graduation date.
At 12:15 p.m., another rally was held outside
of Hollinger Field House. The West Chester chapter of APSCUF was manning tables, helping students register to vote, signing petitions and post cards, as well as supporting their students. In addition to helping students find out more information, the faculty also chanted among the students saying, “Their university,” pointing to students who were at the rally, while students chanted back “our university.” The WCU Marching Band was present and played the WCU fight song as well as other tunes.
Students Kaitlin Latimer, a fourth-year sociology and women’s and gender Studies major, as well as Sarah Robinson, a fourth-year English major, were present at the rally, carrying signs and getting students excited. Both of them believed it was important for students to be at the rally.
“I’m a strong believer in my public education system and not just getting the best education I can but an education that is affordable and reasonable,” Latimer said. “I think it is really important that our student body show that they are a collective, that we can show that we are a unit. We’re really being affected by this. It is not just some talk—it is going to be an action and it is really going to hurt our education.”
“I’m doing this protest because I’m trying to bring attention to an issue that has been squandered and they’re trying to silence,” Robinson said. “A lot of students don’t realize that this is the second time around for the budget cuts. They hear it and they think ‘I remember that,’ this is the second time around.”
Robinson said that even though she is graduating from WCU this May, she still felt passionate about the issue and wanted to bring attention to it. “It is going to affect everyone on campus. I think that public education is a public good and should not be turned for profit,” Robinson said.
Dr. Mark Rimple, professor of music theory and composition, was one of the speakers at the union rally held at Hollinger Field House.
“According to our state constitution, the general assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of the thorough and efficient system of public education to service the needs of our commonwealth,” Rimple said. “The governor’s focus on efficiency taken to its extremes could ruin our campus’ state ideal of a comprehensive, undergraduate education… you have a chance to turn the conversation away from cost and to quality! You owe to all the alumni who studied here, to yourselves and to all the future students to get involved, be citizens!”
Rimple asked how many of the students in the crowd were registered to vote, with a majority of the hands raised. He promised to help those who were not registered to vote, to register at a table near by.
He begged students to communicate with their state legislators. “Make them work for their money so that they can get you the funding that you need,” Rimple said.
Rimple brought one student, who is studying music at WCU, up to the stage. He testified that he had so much trouble paying tuition that he even had to sell some of his instruments.
Another student, an early grades preparation major, also spoke at the rally. “As a pre-service teacher, I feel as though this proposed budget cut not only affects my future year here at West Chester but also my years to come in my profession,” the student said. “Funding is being cut not just for higher education but for all throughout the pre-K through 12 systems. Teachers are being laid off more and more every year. Because of this, more students are being packed into a classroom, further increasing the teacher to student ratio, which makes the already hard job of teaching even harder.”
John Russel, a fourth-year history major, advocated for more budgeting.
“Please continue to fund WCU and all the other PASSHE schools so that this university can continue to grow and carry out its educational mission of excellence,” Russel said.
Sarah Robinson also spoke during the union rally. Robinson talked about being a proud student at WCU.
“From the Poetry Center, to the Women’s and Gender Studies Department to the Honor’s College, I have had the opportunity to work with many passionate educators and it really made a difference,” Robinson said. “But last semester, I had to work three part-time jobs to make up for the budget cuts. And now in my very last semester, I cannot take classes that I wanted to take. I am now part-time just to save a couple $100.” Robinson ended her speech by saying “Stand up for your education! Fight back!”
Dr. Lisa Millhous, Professor in the Communication Studies Department, was the last to speak. Millhous was very impressed by the students and said that she was very proud of students.
“I need you to join me on March 28. I’m taking a school bus to Harrisburg, Pa. I will pay for one school bus, give me students and I will pay for two school buses and if I get three school buses, I will find the money!” Millhous said. “Tell Gov. Corbett that we’ve got to fund education: Public education!”
Students at WCU may see if passion and persistence pay off on June 30 once the budget cuts are voted on.
Angela Thomas is a fourth-year student majoring in English. She can be reached at AT683005@wcupa.edu.
Ginger Rae Dunbar contributed to this article.