A small, but vocal, group of students marched with a megaphone and posters from the Marshall Student Center (MSC) to the Patel Center for Global Solutions on Wednesday afternoon, congregating in the lobby for four hours, saying they refused to leave until they were able to speak with USF President Judy Genshaft.
They were angry, they said.
Matt Hastings, a senior majoring in anthropology, and president of Students for Democratic Society (SDS), said the average USF student has $22,000 in debt from student loans by the time he or she graduates, and that SDS was there to present eight demands to the president demands that would fight what they said were student rights under attack.
They voiced their demands first in the Marshall Student Center (MSC) atrium via megaphone, before they were told they could not use a megaphone inside the building.
The chanted their demands and repeated them in unison without the megaphone, as passersby in the MSC looked on with curiosity.
They demanded for student rights. They demanded that possible future cuts to the Womens Studies and Africana Studies departments be stopped. They demanded the university take a stronger stance against rape culture, a culture that encourages rape. They demanded that the Board of Trustees be free from banksters, but instead offer more student and faculty positions. They demanded to chop from the top, and cut administrative salaries. They demanded to stop tuition hikes.
From the MSC, the group marched to the Patel Center, holding signs with messages such as Queen Judy says Let them eat cake and belting out chants such as When student rights are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.
The group was greeted in the Patel Center lobby by USF Media and Public Affairs Coordinator Adam Freeman, who thanked the group for coming, but said Genshaft was unavailable for the day. They could, however, meet with Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President of Business and Finance John Long and Associate Vice President of Student Affairs, Dee Siscoe, Freeman said.
While group members initially said they did not want to meet with the two, saying they would wait until they could speak with Genshaft, they eventually shared their concerns with Long and Siscoe.
Students such as Becky Killik, a graduate student in the womens and gender studies department, shared personal stories.
Even though I have an assistantship, which is wonderful, it still only covers 80 percent of tuition, she said. I end up paying so much money, and then you have books and everything on top of it. Luckily my major is one that doesnt have a lot of actual textbooks. We mostly do novels and such, but for students in (other programs), the number can be in the thousands of dollars.
Killik said she currently lives on food stamps, and finds it difficult to make financial ends meet while in school. While she was an undergraduate, Killik said she worked approximately 20-40 hours per week.
I understand the need for working and being in school at the same time, because its a good practice for when youre going to have a lot of responsibilities when youre older, Killik said. But with the amount of time and effort that they expect from you now in school, its almost impossible to be able to work and still go to school.
Siscoe said the university was sympathetic to the plight of students and that their stories
People here at the university really do care, she said. Thats why we work at the university, because we want to work with students. No one wants your tuition to go up, but we want to maintain the quality of the education that you do get, and thats a tricky situation to balance those things.
Others voiced concerns about Genshafts level of commitment to students as well as her salary.
I can tell you that President Genshaft is committed to trying to keep tuition as low as possible, Long said. Part of this is not within her span of control and Im sure for everyone in this room who has an opinion about what is most important to them, theres probably another, considering we have 47,000 students. Im just going to guess theres 46,980 out there that all have competing demands and requirements, that we try to balance on a daily level.
After sharing their demands with Long and Siscoe, the group said they would not back down from their initial request to meet with Genshaft.
They were told again that Genshaft would not be available, so they called Genshafts administrative assistant to schedule a time to meet. She was out of the office, but the group was unsatisfied with the response they received from the student assistant who answered the phone.
They said they would leave the building once they had a meeting scheduled with Genshaft.
Some attempted to board the elevators to march to Genshafts office, but security personnel present for the rally said they could not.
USF student body President Brian Goff arrived at the Patel Center, and the group was moved to a conference room in the Patel Center while they shared their concerns with Goff, including that Student Government (SG) was a puppet of USFs administration.
Goff told them he encouraged members of the group to contact SG to help them voice their issues, but many in the group said they were skeptical.
Goff told them he would have promoted their rally via SGs social media had he known of it and would have tried to help arrange a meeting with Genshaft. After meeting with the group, Goff said he, as a Board of Trustees member, would travel up the elevator to the fourth floor of the Patel Center to see if he could help arrange an interview.
The group waited in the lobby, for Goff to return and as the minutes grew closer to 5 p.m., members expressed more frustration with Goff, Genshaft and their day.
Goff returned shortly before 5 p.m. and told the group the best way to set up the meeting would be to email Genshafts administrative assistant and said he would too on their behalf.
Its the same hurdles I have to jump through to schedule a meeting with her, he said. Shes an extremely busy person and I fully believe that her schedule could be booked a month out in advance.
Catherine Lim, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences, said she was pleased.
Now we have a strategy, she said.
Hastings said the organization feels it is important to raise awareness about tuition hikes, especially at the beginning of the legislative session, which began Tuesday.
The students have to be there at that debate as soon as its happening, or were going to be left out, he said. Or else, the things that we want to see happen, arent going to happen.