Matt Crowley/The AS Review
With Western once again facing budget issues, including a proposed $2,100 increase in tuition over the next two years and a 50 percent reduction to work study funding, the organizers of the year’s second incarnation of the Rally to Restore Education hope to not only educate students but get them involved as well.
The rally will take place Tuesday, March 1 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center plaza. It has been organized and coordinated by Western Votes, a branch of the Associated Students Representation and Engagement Programs. In addition, AS Vice President for Governmental Affairs Byron Starkey has been helping plan the rally along with Western Votes President Christina Roy and Vice President Rachel Bowers. Bowers said that a core group of volunteers both inside and outside of Western Votes are assisting as well.
While the first rally of the year in October was heavily influenced by the November midterm election, the March rally is being fueled by growing frustration among students over budget cuts, particularly the recent revelation that $25 million would be cut from Washington’s State Need Program, which helps low-income students. Due to the $500 million budget shortfall facing legislators that needs to be remedied before the 2011-2013 biennium budget kicks in on July 1, state lawmakers are looking for ways to save money without directly cutting higher education funding.
Both student and non-student leaders will speak at the rally, including United Faculty of Washington President Bill Lyne, who also works at Western as an English professor, student trustee Ramiro Espinoza, AS President Colin Watrin as well as a handful of other student speakers.
Starkey said the rally is about more than just money, and organizers have a couple of goals in mind, one of which is to educate students about the budget cuts so that they have a better understanding of the political jargon and numbers involved. Starkey added that some students may be unaware of the severity of the potential cuts due to language used by politicians. In the end, it is dollar amounts, not percentages, that are more relatable, he said.
“It’s also about getting students more involved,” he continued. “To get them more involved we’re going to encourage them to write letters, make phone calls and really educate themselves as well. With this, we are creating a direct connection to Olympia, which is very important and really the goal of the rally.”
Bowers said that while Western Votes’ non-partisan stance does not allow them to side with any political party, their role as a political advocacy group allows them to speak out against things such as the recent budget cuts. They have also aided students in other outreach events, such as voter registration, and will provide students with multiple ways to contact state representatives at the rally.
“Everything the legislation is doing affects you,” Bowers said. “As a voter, you should have a say in what they are doing.”
While Starkey agreed that everyone would be affected by the budget cuts, he said that the extent of that effect will vary between individuals and that students may have different reasons to show up to the rally.
“I think that it depends on each student, because for one student, they might be there because they are receiving their State Need Grant and don’t know whether or not they will receive it spring quarter,” he said. “You might have another student who is a biology major, and they’re seeing their class sizes go up; they might know a professor who might not be here next year, you never know. So, I think for each student it depends on what you care about.”
Ultimately however, the upcoming budget and its effect on Western will be just as important in the coming years as it is today.
“I think that the rally plays into a big picture or long-term goal to create a base of support for higher education,” said Starkey. “If we can get students to continually educate themselves about the issues and then go further than that and actually take action, it will help us in the long run.”