By Diego Huaman
At UCI’s Rally for Free Education last Thursday, over 400 students rallied for tuition-free public college, cancellation of all student debt, and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers at UC Irvine’s Flagpoles.
UCI is one of over 120 college campuses who participated in a collective display of student voices and power called The Rally for Free Education. Students cited rising tuition costs and unequal opportunities for funding higher educations among major grievances.
“Really, I’m sick of private interests taking advantage of my vulnerable position as a student,” said Mohammad Raza, the at-large School of Social Science representative, and protest participant.
Another participant and organizer, first-year Simran Bajwa, said that she participated because she wants fellow first-generation students to be able to afford higher education.
“I am a first generation college student, and my parents did not understand how much college costs, and now they are working their butt off in order to make sure I can go to college,” said Bajwa, who helped lead the march and hand out posters to other students. “I plan to become a doctor, and doctors contribute so much to society. But I can’t do this if I’m not able to afford higher education.”
Orange County for Bernie Sanders, as well as a number of community activists, came out to speak and rally alongside the students. Many students shared their personal narratives and the hardships they’ve faced in the pursuit of free higher education.
The rally was intended to remain stationary beneath the shadow of Aldrich Hall, but students ended up marching across the school of humanities, the Claire Trevor School of Arts, and back around through West Peltason Drive before finally arriving back at the flagpoles, where many of the protesters joined a second demonstration by the Black Student Union showing solidarity with student activists at the University of Missouri.
During the march, protesters chanted “The students, united, will never be divided,” “Whose university? Our university!” “I’m fired up! Can’t take it no more!” and “What do we want? Free tuition! When do we want it? Now!” among other phrases.
While the protest demands were specific, the rally also addressed issues of perceived structural and institutional racism within higher education, which was exemplified over the past week by student protests at the University of Missouri and Claremont McKenna.
Raza connected the issue of institutionalized racism in higher education with the tuition-decreasing aims of the Rally for Free Higher Education.
“I’m sick of the mismanagement of congressional funds that completely disregard higher education; I’m sick of our institutional powers taking advantage of black and brown bodies while disregarding the issues of their communities,” said Raza. “I’m fired up and I really can’t take it anymore.”