Thom Larkin/The Siskiyou
Southern Oregon University students holding signs march down Siskiyou Boulevard to the Plaza in a rally to support higher education last Wednesday.
Students streamed down the sidewalks of Ashland from Southern Oregon University in a walkout to demonstrate their support for funding higher education.
The rally began in the Stevenson Union courtyard last Wednesday, allowing students to gather and grab signs to hold while on the march. Organizer Ian Dooley, a senior in the environmental studies program at SOU, gave a short speech to pump up the crowd and then over 100 students set off toward the Plaza.
“I want to see how many people care about this school, about this state,” said Dooley in his speech.
Dooley conceived the idea of a rally two weeks ago when President Cullinan announced the latest installment of budget cuts at SOU.
“I just saw the passion of the people there and thought they could make it more visible,” said Dooley. “I sat on the idea of a walkout. I thought it would get attention.” For two weeks Dooley and his friends spread the word of the walkout and gathered support from faculty and administration.
“I wasn’t the first person to talk about [the rally]. I was just the first person to do something about it,” said Dooley.
Sophomore and criminology major Aliesha Latham said she hoped by being there she would raise community awareness and support her friend whose major is being cut.
“I think we do need to save SOU,” said Latham. “[SOU’s student rally] probably won’t do as much as in Salem, but I think it will make the community aware.”
As student’s made their way downtown they chanted to passing cars, “Save our state, educate,” and ran out into the median on Siskiyou Boulevard holding signs. People from stores lining Ashland’s downtown came out to see what all the commotion was, and either shouted support for the students or derogatory comments.
Once in the Plaza, the students gathered in a group, still chanting their mantra, and waited to listen to a speech given by political science professor Bill Hughes.
Hughes explained to the crowd of eager students that this was not just a student, faculty, administration or staff problem, but rather an issue with Oregon’s willingness to fund higher education.
“Students have more than paid their ticket,” said Hughes.
He went on to address different issues like the privatization of university education and how nationally this has had a negative impact on students pursuing a higher education. Hughes said in order for students to make an impact on the Ashland and Rogue Valley communities, as well as lawmakers, students need to take more action than just the rally.
“We got to work together. If we do, we got a shot,” said Hughes. “What are the goals? You’re not asking for a handout, you’re asking for a right.”
According to Hughes, the primary constituency for SOU is the Rogue Valley, which is generally poor. He said the university cannot expect to get any more money out of students from the valley, nor do they want to. Hughes said it is time to start targeting lawmakers and raising awareness in the community about how important higher education is to Southern Oregon.
“We got to bring the general community into this,” said Hughes. “Let’s give this thing content. This is going to help a little bit. So goddamn it, send the message loud and clear.”
Hughes rallied the crowd by encouraging student’s to write letters to their legislators in Salem asking them to support higher education in Oregon. Hughes said the more people see and hear about student’s passion for supporting public education, the more they cannot ignore the issue.
“Nobody is going to care about you by yourself,” said Hughes. “We’ve got to try and reach the rest of the community. I want to hear from you.”
After Hughes’s speech, students took their signs and headed back up the street to make the march back to campus. While walking back, students had more community response from traffic heading south on Siskiyou Boulevard than on the march down. Angry people yelled profanities at students.
Donny Moffat, a sophomore in human communication, was not deterred by the negative yelling from passersby and walked out into the middle of a lane in front of traffic holding up his sign. Moffat managed to slow traffic down a bit and encouraged fellow students to join him.
“We’re sending a message outside the school room,” said Moffat. “We need everyone to feel our pain.”
The rally only lasted an hour, and once students reached SOU’s campus they dispersed. A small group gathered in front of Churchill Hall and left their signs displayed in various locations outside the building.
Dooley said he was happy about the turnout of the rally and all of the positive energy, however he was tired from two weeks of organization.
“I’m just thankful for everyone who came out and supported it,” said Dooley. “I was pretty tired. I had a headache from yelling too much. My throat hurt.”