Written by Jazmine Salas of UCF SLAP
We were upset when the Florida State Legislature cut funding to public universities. We were angry when the legislature slashed funding to financial aid, including Florida’s Bright Futures Scholarship. When these same politicians, presiding over the dismantling of the state’s public education system met at our campus, we, the students of the University of Central Florida had no choice but to rise up!
On December 1st, the Student Labor Action Project at UCF participated in the student led protest Rise Up UCF! The action was the project of a massive collaboration between progressive organizations on campus including: SLAP, Amnesty International at UCF, Campus Peace Action at UCF, College Democrats at UCF, Equal at UCF, National Organization for Women at UCF, Occupy UCF, Students for a Democratic Society at UCF and Voices for Planned Parenthood (VOX) at UCF. Additionally, Rise UP UCF was concurrent with a state-wide week of action by Florida’s students demanding their voices be heard by those who dare cut education.
When the Central Florida Legislative Delegation (CFLD) met at the Fairwinds Alumni Center at the University of Central Florida on a sunny Thursday morning, the last thing they were expecting to see was a crowd of 100 students chanting, marching, and demanding answers for the politicians attacks on public education. The CFLD is made up of business leaders and right-wing politicians such as Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Speaker of the House Dean Cannon, politicians who have a horrid record when it comes to standing on the side of working families and students. This past year, the university raised tuition by 15% while the governor vetoed $21 million towards a new infrastructure which would create thousands of new jobs when youth unemployment hovers around 25%. With the average student graduating with $22,000 in debt, it is extremely unfair to put the burden of a tight budget on the students. Bright Futures, a major scholarship given to students who maintain a GPA above 3.0, has been cut in half. Furthermore, there are talks of only awarding the scholarship to science, business and economic related majors, leaving liberal arts students uncovered. The state legislatures have also signed HB 1355 into law, making it harder for students to register to vote. The current legislature is anti-student rights, and we wanted them to know that this was unacceptable.
The two hour event featured UCF students using the human mic made popular by the occupy movement to articulate how the attacks on schooling have effected them. SLAPatistas Alexa, Luis, Shane, Thomas, Curtis, and Shannon all addressed the large crowd providing their perspectives on how we can not only rise up but fight back when the new legislative session starts in the Spring.
Additionally, the students had the opportunity to confront the legislatures face to face; after the meeting, many of the politicians and business executives chose to exit through the door right by the crowd. (Senate President Mike Haridopolos and Speaker of the House Dean Cannon used an alternative exit.) It was clear the students strength in numbers had an impact on those who attended the event. Furthermore, after the CFLD had left our campus, the students led to a march around campus, which included the storming of our campus streets. As we marched, students joined us as our numbers swelled. From across campus our voices could be heard as we declared “EDUCATION IS A RIGHT! FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT!”
An event of this magnitude had not been seen at UCF for quite some time. Furthermore, the event raised a lot of awareness among the student body about the attacks to their education. When I was speaking to students before the event, many were surprised to learn about the mandatory tuition hikes. The legislatures could not ignore our angry and impassioned voices. Going forward SLAP at UCF is committed to defending students rights not just at our campus but across the state. During the legislative cycle, which starts in January, we will be partnering with our state-wide student allies in the Fight Back Florida coalition, we will unite with our worker brethren in the labor movement, we will ensure that our politicians realize education is a right not a commodity.