Around 50 people came to the University House northeast of the duck pond — the residence of University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes — to protest the rise in tuition costs on Thursday, Aug. 13.
UNM undergraduate student and protest co-organizer Ava Yelton created a petition last month calling on the Board of Regents to reverse the tuition increase for the 2020-21 school year.
The rationale behind the calls against the tuition rise is the increasing financial hardships and perceived diminished quality of online instruction wrought by the pandemic.
Yelton co-organized the protest with the UNM Students for Socialism club, an organization whose mission is to “fight for a socialist future that works for all people, not just the wealthy.”
“I have a lot of close friends who are having to drop out of school because of the tuition raise,” Yelton said.
The protest, which was promoted through social media channels, called for the University to suspend all tuition and fee hikes for the 2020-21 academic year.
“Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and related economic depression, students and their families are suffering financially in an unprecedented way,” read the Facebook description of the sit-in, which Yelton later posted on Twitter. “Even so, the University of New Mexico has decided to move forward with planned tuition increases on students!”
Many who attended the protest voiced their frustrations with what they see as a lack of empathy from the University.
Other concerns, including what student fees will fund in light of the indefinite postponement of the UNM football season, were aired during the sit-in.
“On Aug. 11, the (Mountain West Conference) ended up deciding to no longer hold fall sports, but if you look at our fees that we are paying this year, we're still paying an athletic fee,” Yelton said. “So that really begs the question: What are we paying for?”
Another point of contention among protesters was what they described as the rise in tuition forcing some students to choose between school or basic necessities.
Others took aim at a perceived dysfunctionality of higher education in the United States.
“The United States of America has enough money to put hundreds of thousands of cops in the streets, they have enough money to give military-grade tanks to cops, they have enough money to go invade poor countries like Afghanistan and Syria, but they don’t have enough money to give you a fucking education?” one protester said.
There are over 800,000 sworn law enforcement officers in the United States, according to the latest figures from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.
Many also expressed that if people want to affect change outside of the scope of the sit-in’s demands, they should join groups that look to challenge the status quo.
“(There are) so many organizations that are fighting for human rights. I want you to join one of these — I want you to keep fighting,” the same protester said. “Just going to the polls every four years and voting red or blue isn’t going to cure everything, because this year we have the architect of mass incarceration and a fucking idiot as your choices.”
Protester Esperanza Wells said she went to the sit-in as an incoming freshman to be exposed to groups on campus.
When asked what she imagined the outcome of the protest would look like, Ella said the student-led movement would need to attract the attention of people with more influence to have any hope of gaining traction.
“I feel like because we're still such a small group — because no one is really out here that is within a higher authority position — it’s going to take a long time for a change to start, and we need other people who have higher connections to also advocate for tuition being lowered,” Ella said.
The UNM Police Department had officers stationed in the area, with a patrol car idling close by the protest.
An Albuquerque Police Department helicopter also flew over the protest, but it wasn’t immediately clear if the chopper was called in to monitor the protest, as it only made one loop before departing.
The primary goal of sit-in organizers was for Associated Students of the University of New Mexico and campus leaders to listen to students’ fiduciary and educational concerns and decrease tuition.
“A lot of people — including myself — have been unemployed or struggled with unemployment since March, and the fact that we’re having to put our tuition on hold just because of a tuition raise is kind of infuriating,” Yelton said.
While no future sit-ins or protests concerning student tuition are currently planned, a protest over eviction moratoria is scheduled for Aug. 29.
Spencer Butler is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SpencerButler48
Kyalynn Moore-Wilson is a reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @KyalynnW