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Two weeks later, UMass Boston still 'occupied'

Posted by Patrick Rosso  February 6, 2012 04:17 PM

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(Patrick D. Rosso/

The Occupy UMass Boston encampment in the university's campus center.

Two weeks after students of the UMass Boston “occupied” their campus center, they are still there with their tents and sleeping bags and the administration hasn’t made a move to push them out.

The students are protesting cuts in public education spending and hikes in tuition.

“I think we’ve developed a decent relationship with the administration,” said Ben Whelan, a 26-year-old UMass student and Allston native. “We’ve had a number of members of the administration come down and attend general assemblies. I think some of them see this as a teachable moment.”

Although Whelan knew not everyone on campus supported the occupation, he said they have been getting support.

“I definitely think some of the teachers and administrators do identify with the movement,” Whelan said today as he handed out fliers to passing students. “The fact that they have been willing to listen to us is important.”

The four or so students occupying the campus center this morning were in high spirits and believed their message is resonating on the Columbia Point campus.

“We’ve brought a lot of politicization to the campus,” said Daniel Wilder, a 21-year-old student and Boston native. “It’s a commuter school so people often are too tired or don’t have the time to organize. But I think we’ve created a space for students to talk and express themselves.”

Looking forward, students said they are working on a list of demands and organizing a rally to protest the UMass Board of Trustees meeting Feb. 7.

“I know they aren’t dictators,” Wilder said as a he played chess in the campus center. “But they are dictators over education. It’s a public university and it’s the responsibility of everyone to advocate for keeping it public and affordable.”

Last year, UMass trustees approved a 7.5-percent increase in tuition and fees, raising the price for a semester at UMass Boston in spring 2012 to $6,613.50 for in-state students.

Students began their occupation Jan. 23 with the goal of increasing student involvement in university decisions. The occupiers have also raised concerns about the rising cost of tuition and the “privatization” of the school.

On Jan. 26 the administration at UMass Boston distributed a letter asking students to comply with campus center rules and regulations that forbid overnight stays by students (campus center hours are from 6:00 a.m. – 11:00 p.m.).

Even after the letter was distributed many at the encampment said they do not plan on leaving anytime soon and the school has made no effort to remove them.

DeWayne Lehman, the college's director of communications, said the college will continue to hold an open dialogue with the occupiers.

“There is an ongoing discussion with the group, and we hope we can continue that as we move forward,” Lehman said.

E-mail Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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