Colussi: Why we protested

“Nothing about us without us.” That’s what 80+ students and I chanted as we took the stage on Oct. 6. President Schill has ignored student concerns for a long time, so we decided to protest in a way that he simply could not overlook.

Students have sought to work with the administration using sanctioned means. For example, the LGBTQA3 put on a protest in Johnson Hall last April. President Schill came to meet with them and he brought Vice President for Student Life Kevin Marbury with him. Members of the QA3 were listing demands and sharing concerns; Mr. Marbury said the UO would work on meeting the demands. Charlie Landeros, one of the protesters, asked how they could be sure that anything would be done, since in the past the UO has simply ignored students’ concerns. Landeros said that Schill told him, “He is the president and only he gets to decide what happens at this school, not [us].” After he said that, he “walked out of the meeting. He walked out as students were talking to him. He said that he had a ‘diversity’ training that he was late for,” according to Landeros. He claims that students should arrange meetings with either him or someone from his administration instead of protesting, but when students did arrange a meeting, he walked out as they were talking to him.

After the demonstration, President Schill framed himself as a victim of “disruptive” protestors who don’t understand the “value of free speech.” He ignores, however, the fact that students do not have the same abilities that he does. Students cannot email every student, faculty member, staff member and alum detailing their grievances. He sent an email condemning students for “shutting down another person’s right to speak.” This is ironic, considering he was able to send a recording of his speech to every person with a UO email address as well as publish an Op Ed in the New York Times.

He claims to support free speech, yet he has condemned and neglected the voices of marginalized students on campus while ensuring our campus is a safe space for local Nazis such as Jimmy Marr and hate groups such as the Genocide Awareness Project. It’s clear he only values some free speech, and it’s not that of his own students. In the email, he announced a lecture and panel series for teaching students about “the value of free speech,” which is condescending and paternalistic. Last year, President Schill proposed a policy to the Senate that would restrict the time, place and manner of student protest. He revoked it after press coverage and objections from students and faculty, but the fact that he even proposed it in the first place shows how much he cares about free speech.

The UO Student Collective — a coalition of student activists that “are taking back power for the students” — released a list of 22 demands, which have four common themes: increasing services to marginalized students, easing the financial burden of students, increasing support of staff and student workers and publicly condemning the increasing amounts of hate speech, white supremacist propaganda and alt-right organizing on and near campus.

Other demands include: beginning to cut carbon emissions immediately, increasing access to counseling and mental health services, repealing the decision to require freshmen to live on campus and having a graduate employee on the Board of Trustees.

He criticized us for protesting, but he should be thanking us for taking action and having the courage to speak with passion about how the University of Oregon can be improved. After all, it is our university.

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Elaina Colussi

Elaina Colussi