New York Student Rising (NYSR) hosted students from all over the state in Albany, N.Y. on Monday, March 5, to rally against tuition hikes, recent reductions in state funding and increases in student debt for State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY).
Organized in support of public education in New York, the students and event organizers gathered to demand state legislature prioritize education, and persuade politicians to stop cutting the funding for public higher education, fourth-year international relations and Women’s Studies double-major Ashley Drzymala said.
“We addressed a number of issues that we, as a group of united students, demand to see changed,” Drzymala said. “One of the issues that has fallen to the margins of the current national discussion on the privatization of public education and the immense and unreasonable student loan debt is the aspect of institutionalized racism within our education system.”
Institutionalized racism, she said, refers to the increased tuition rates and how this essentially “whites-out” people of color from the education system.
Education is becoming increasingly based off a business perspective, third-year psychology major Shane Triano said. She said the government is more interested in making colleges look “sell-able” rather than increasing the quality.
Last year a piece of legislation titled NYSUNY 2020 was adopted, causing an increase in SUNY tuition annually by $300 for the next five years for all undergraduate students. This is a 30 percent tuition increase.
“It honestly is a privilege to be able to come up with that extra $500 for most students,” Triano said. “And it’s hard for privileged people, like Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo, to see that.”
Drzymala said students should not worry about how to make the campus more marketable and their government should not decrease the quality of education while increasing its cost. This is an institution of higher education and “not a business,” she said.
Eirik Bjorkman, a graduate of SUNY New Paltz and current employee of NYSR, helped students get involved on campus through speaking to classes and encouraging the students involved with the on-campus organization Students of the Final Cut to publicize the event, Triano said.
The event had a loud, enthusiastic and powerful atmosphere, Triano said. Almost 400 students gathered together, including 15 SUNY New Paltz students, to express their disgust for the inequity being embedded in the institutions, according to Triano.
“It was extremely well-organized,” second-year sociology major Deborah Walnicki said. “I think that’s what made it so successful in the end.”
Press releases were issued before the rally, publicizing the demonstration. Throughout the day, the capitol was home to at least 10 news stations at all times, Walnicki said. This allowed the event to be broadcast immediately after it broke up.
Around 7 p.m., police began arresting people for disorderly conduct, as a group of the students began gathering around
The governor barricaded himself in his office and refused to speak to the protestors outside, according to Triano.
“It turned into a sit-in and the whole process took about four hours,” Triano said. “The police took all of us down to the garage of the Capitol and piled us into vans. Then they drove us around for a bit and dropped us back off in the basement. The whole thing was just to mess with us.”
The students traveled to voice their grievances, get answers and have Cuomo explain his reasons for selling out the students’ education, Drzymala said.
The event broke up late that night, leaving students satisfied, Walnicki said.
“It was more of an outlet for us than anything else,” she said. “Obviously there won’t be much change from one protest, but it helped us network with other schools.”
The school needs to get more involved and change the “lack of investment,” Triano said.
“It’s interesting, a lot of people are put off that some students actually give a shit about this stuff,” Triano said.
More information on future rallies and the on-campus NYSR organization can be found at facebook.com/nystudentsrising or facebook.com/groups/studentsofthefinalcut.
The groups intend to participate in a rally similar at least once every semester, Drzymala said.
“The student uprising has only just begun,” she said.