On Friday October 24th, angry students gathered at the Koerner Plaza to demand fair tuition and housing costs. The university, in a move of callous money-grabbing, has recently announced that it will raise international students’ tuition by 10 percent and residence fees by 20 percent as well as adding new costs to the residence meal plan. Justifiably outraged, students — domestic and international, living on and off campus — mobilized against these fee hikes. For many of us already barely eking out a living in the most expensive city in the world, the university’s move comes as a slap in the face. If the university itself is hanging the students out to dry to the uncaring winds of market forces, who is left on our side? If the institution that ostensibly exists for students does not stand up for accessible education, who will?
The answer, it seems, is the students. In rousing speeches to the assembled crowd, Gabriel D’Astous, Nina Karimi, Amna Elnour and Mitchell Dean declared that if the university will not listen to its students, the students have no choice but to demand attention. With red squares — symbols of student resistance from Quebec and elsewhere — pinned to their lapels and red bar codes painted on their faces to symbolise how we are merely commodities, the crowd listened intently, and began to march as one to the Vanier, Totem, and Marine Drive residences with special visits to the President’s office and the Housing Services on the way. In front of somewhat bewildered but attentive Housing Services staff, students continued to make speeches and chant emphatically against the proposed hikes. Chants like “Hey, hey UBC, how much money will you take from me?” and “We’re on a mission, for housing and tuition!” surfaced from the crowds. Some people watched from their bedroom windows as their fellow students beckoned them down to join the protest; a few rushed out to be part of the momentum.
The gathering of around 300 hundred students marched up Main Mall and along towards the Martha Piper Plaza where the #IAmAStudent Teach-in was held the week before. They carried their signs with creative slogans, including Hogwarts asks for less; Down with Neoliberalism!; The poor need not apply; and Who needs border control with prices like these?. The impassioned crowd maintained the fervour, chanting, marching, waving signs, educating and calling in passers-by all the way to the fountain.
At the fountain, the protest culminated with Bathing Babes, a symbolic demonstration of how unaffordable housing and tuition leads to students to be so out of pocket they cannot pay their water bills. Organised by Marina Classen of the GRSJ Undergraduate Students Association, around twelve students stripped to their underwear or bathing suits and waded into the fountain. With loafers and sponges they attempted to scrub dollar signs from their bodies. The surprise ending marked a radical demonstration of how passionately students oppose these tuition and housing fee hikes, and the lengths to which their activism will extend. Although the protesters represented only a fraction of the student body, the shouting, cheering, and mere presence of those who could spare a few moments in the midst of mid-term season, not to mention the vast online support from those who could not, indicates that UBC students will not go down without a fight.
On Tuesday, October 28th, the AMS is holding their Annual General Meeting which requires five hundred students to meet quorum. Five hundred UBC students must be present so that the AMS can officially vote against these proposed increases! Five hundred students must stand united.