The first protest against the current tuition increases took place this week.
On Tuesday evening, students gathered outside of the Robert H. Lee Alumni Centre, at which an Alumni UBC event was taking place. The protesters held signs and distributed material with information about their cause to alumni entering the event.
“We didn’t get too much response from alumni, but we did get people engaged … so I think in that sense it was successful,” said Eviatar Bach, web coordinator and executive of the Social Justice Centre.
The protest was aimed at raising awareness among alumni — with whom students have limited contact — and gaining their support in opposing the tuition increases.
“I’m actually thinking this is quite instructive ... for a number of the guests,” said Brian Sullivan, special advisor to the university on alumni engagement and spokesperson for the event. “I think they’re very pleased that voices can be raised and people can express their point of view alongside this special event that’s happening."
Louise Cowin, VP Students, and Interim President Martha Piper were also seen engaging with students present at the protest.
“I think that the protest is well-timed,” said Cowin. “It's a very thoughtful opportunity for students to come out and demonstrate, to influential donors and members of Board of Governors who are in attendance tonight, their opposition to these tuition measures [currently] being contemplated.”
As with other university administrators, Cowin repeated that consultation with students would be about where the funds would be allocated, not whether the increases would go through at all.
Cowin admitted that there were issues in the way the tuition increases were going forward, with the Board instructing the university to raise fees to comparable levels with peer institutions.
“It’s very difficult for students to feel that what they do is going to have a difference of impact [on something] that seems already baked,” she told The Ubyssey.
This was a concern shared by students at the event. Emily Peers-Grove and Skylar Kylstra, two first-year land and food systems students, were out protesting because of the lack of opportunity created by the university for meaningful contribution of students to the conversation.
“The way UBC has approached this situation makes me feel very uncomfortable,” said Peers-Grove. “It seems like [the university has] made efforts to block out student voices in this decision.”
“We’d feel more comfortable if they were more explicit about what the money was being put towards,” Kylstra agreed.
Overall, the protest was well-received by both those involved in the event as well as the numerous students who stopped by.
Sullivan felt this was because the protesters were reaching out to alumni who could identify with their concerns.
“I think there was a lot learned from last year about making sure there’s a lot of avenues for people to express their voice,” said Sullivan. “If this is one of [the avenues] that people choose and they can find a way … of expressing in a clear way — but also in a way that doesn’t impede what’s going on in the event — then I think that’s a perfectly legitimate way to do it.”