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University of Minnesota Students Demand No Tuition Hikes, Hands Off Cultural Centers

By Grace Kelley

University of Minnesota students gathered for a press conference Oct. 20

Minneapolis, MN – University of Minnesota students gathered for a press conference Oct. 20 outside the administration building. The event, organized by Students for a Democratic Society, focused on Students for a Democratic Society’s ongoing campaign for education rights and challenged the administration’s attacks on student cultural centers currently occupying space in the campus student union. Speakers included members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), La Raza Student Cultural Center, the American Indian Student Cultural Center, Al-Madinah Cultural Center, the Queer Student Cultural Center, and the Women’s Student Activist Collective.

The diverse student groups united around four demands for President Bruininks: No more tuition or fee hikes, no more layoffs of University support staff or faculty, transparency now and end the attacks on cultural centers.

The first three demands have been ongoing since SDS began their education rights campaign a year and a half ago, with a banner drop at freshman convocation in the fall of 2009. At the press conference, SDS member Kira Downey explained, “This is a federally funded land-grant institution meant to be…inclusive of all peoples…[but] tuition has raised over 150% in the last ten years and students are dropping out.” Downey continued, “The students are the essence of the university. It could not succeed without us. So there must be complete transparency in all the decisions being made and we deserve power in this decision making.”

The fourth demand is a response to the Student Union & Activities recent assertions that the cultural centers now occupying the second floor of the student union may be evicted from that space. The SUA Board of Governors is currently considering whether there should be “turnover” with regards to student groups occupying second floor rooms, citing space needs for other student groups. “With the numerous remodeling projects taking place on campus, systematic building of student group space is never discussed,” countered Al-Madinah member, James Faghmous. “While we believe that student groups deserve more space, it shouldn’t be at the expense of active cultural centers that meet all university requirements in terms of room usage and openness to the general student body.”

American Indian Student Cultural Center director Lorna Her Many Horses defended the their right to their current space, citing the fact that their second floor room was designed specifically to meet the needs of American Indian cultural practices, such as sage burning.

Women’s Student Activist Collective and Queer Student Cultural Center member Natalie Clifford spoke of her organizations’ contributions to the student union community as spaces in which students can feel safe regardless of their sexual or gender orientation.

Uriel Rosales, board member of La Raza, the Chicano cultural center, reminded listeners of the struggle for education rights for undocumented immigrants: “We cannot even begin talking about equality in education, when there are students who are being systematically denied the opportunity to receive education.”

Attacks on cultural centers at the University of Minnesota are ominous, as are budget cuts to departments like Chicano studies in the wake of Arizona state legislation outlawing ethnic studies this past summer. “As we speak, Ethnic Studies across the country are under attack. This is the systematic silencing of the people’s history, the systematic challenge to our agency and the regression of society as a whole,” declared Rosales.

The press conference ended with the students delivering their demands to university President Bruininks, requesting a meeting with the president in the coming weeks.

#MinneapolisMN #StudentsForADemocraticSociety #EducationRights #ChopFromTheTop