Tampa Bay, FL – Over 200 students rallied at the University of South Florida to protest budget cuts and rising tuition costs. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) along with other groups, including Occupy USF and a local union with the American Federation of State, City, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), took part in a walkout to protest the attacks on students and education. This walkout came as part of the March 1st National Day of Action for Education Rights. Across the board, education continues to be cut and tuition is on the rise.
Last year and the third year in a row, the USF Administration and the State government raised tuition by 15 percent. SDS and other groups organized protests throughout Tampa and the state capital (Tallahassee) against them. As of this year, the state government plans to cut education by almost $2 billion. For students at the University of South Florida, this cuts the budget by almost 60%. With these budget cuts, University administrators will raise tuition yet again. With nowhere to turn and no money to spend, students will be forced to take out more huge loans. Currently, student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt in the U.S. Without access to money some young people are forced to drop out of school, while many pile up huge debt for years to come.
On campus, student protesters walked out of their classes at noon to protest the attacks on their education. Students, faculty, and staff represented by AFSCME rallied together. Catherine Lim of SDS spoke to the crowd, “We have decided to leave class, something we hold valuable, in order to show how seriously we are taking these blows to education”. As the crowd grew larger they marched off towards the Marshall Student Center shouting, “The students united will never be defeated!”
Marching through Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza the crowd's intensity grew. Upon reaching the doors of the Marshall Center, a hub for top university officials, the protesters gathered inside chanting, “Chop from the Top! Chop from the Top!” From there the crowd participated in a sit-in to talk about the cuts to their education. Speaker after speaker came forward to say how the cuts affect them. At one point USF President Judy Genshaft poked her head through the crowd only to be yelled at and booed by the crowd. The message was clear – the students want a school that works for them, not against them.
As Andrew Stapleton of SDS said, “SDS and myself stand firm on these issues and we will continue fighting for the right to public education for all students. I see strength in student unity and I refuse to go down without a fight.”
More attacks from the State Legislature are on their way, but students are standing
together against them. SDS, with Occupy USF, Students Working for Equal Rights, and the Black Student Union, plan to continue the fight with another action soon.