On Tuesday, April 4, a small group of students and faculty members rallied in front of the Frederick Douglass statue in support of the Fight for $15 movement.
The campus Fight for $15 movement seeks to raise the minimum wage for student and campus employees to $15 an hour while also implementing a five-year tuition freeze.
Nationally, the campaign began in New York City with a group of petitioning fast food workers, and it has since spread throughout the country and various higher education institutions.
“What do we want? Living wages! When do we want them? Now!” chanted the group.
“The whole point of this campaign is basically the view that nobody should have to decide between going to school and working, or going to school and keeping the lights on,” said Jamie Berg, a second-year women’s and gender studies major involved in organizing the rally.
Starting at approximately 11:20 a.m., students and faculty members at West Chester University, as well as the director of Make the Road Pennsylvania, spoke about the goals of the Fight for $15 movement and why it is important both nationally and locally.
The beliefs of the movement maintain that both rising tuition and low working wages put stress on many students.
Second-year women’s and gender studies and political science major Nahje Royster explained, “We should not have to jump through so many hurdles just to afford an education.”
Royster went on to seek the help of the university, saying, “We uphold the pillars that this university likes to represent. We are out on the front lines when this university is attacked, and this university now needs to stand for us.”
As college tuition has risen, so has debt. According to Forbes Magazine, the student loan debt peaked at around $1.3 trillion this year.
According to a report from the Institute for College Access and Success, the average debt of a graduating student at WCU in 2015 was $32,031.
Emphasizing this point, Berg asked how many in the surrounding crowd were affected by student debt, and almost every person raised their hand.
Adjunct professor Dana Simone, a WCU graduate, spoke about her experience as a working class, first-generation college student.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for this place and the professors here,” stated Simone. “For me, the fact that there’s a situation, a trend, happening where fewer and fewer working-class kids like myself can get here… I can’t just sit by and let that happen.”
The rally itself concluded with cheering, chants and a collective decision to march into President Chris Fiorentino’s office and demand a meeting with him.
According to members of the Fight for $15, this action was in response to the deletion of a previously scheduled meeting slot.
Once in the office, Chief of Staff John Villella met with students after hearing the crowd’s chants.
While in negotiation, Villella stated, “If there’s always demands, then you have to tell me how you plan to make that happen.”
The Fight for $15 placed responsibility on him and the PASSHE system with Royster responding, “This is your job. This is the PASSHE system’s job. It is not the job of the oppressed to fix the situation.”
Villella and the Fight for $15 student group eventually reached a conclusion in which Villella agreed to set up a meeting with the Fight for $15 student members and Fiorentino.
As of now, the meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 11 at 9 a.m.
“This is our PASSHE. This is our school [that] we pay for. We should be the priority of the administration,” said Berg.
Mackenzie Haverdink is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at MH850486@wcupa.edu.
Sarah Kratz is a third-year student majoring in English writings track with a minor in sociology. She can be reached at SK822925@wcupa.edu.