Over 120 students silently lined the outside walkways leading up to Gore School of Business Friday afternoon, where a scheduled faculty meeting would take place.
Students held signs protesting how the tuition increase will affect them, with many stating they aren’t sure if they can attend Westminster College next year.
“Honestly it depends on the financial aid I’m able to receive,” said Ryeleigh McCready, a junior majoring in theater. “I am basically a financial aid and scholarship student. I can’t take out student loans.”
Students like McCready say they love the school, which is why it feels like an attack to raise tuition so quickly.
“I really found a community in Westminster that I hadn’t really had before,” McCready said. “This tuition increase, if it goes through then it won’t really be my home because they’re not trying to protect our students or faculty anymore.”
Students protest 8.5% tuition increase
This comes two weeks after President Beth Dobkin announced an 8.5% tuition hike for the next academic year, increasing costs by $3,000. This announcement sparked outrage in students, leading to the creation of a student organization “Westmini Students Speak Out” on Instagram.
The student coalition created an online survey gathering student responses before organizing a silent protest to show the administration how the increase affects students.
Faculty members passed by the students holding signs on the way into their meeting, with many stopping to read the signs. Some even gave nods of approval and fist-bumps to the students.
“I think it was good they showed up and they were looking [at the signs],” said Katie Valdez, a junior justice studies major and one of the student organizers.
Dobkin was present at the meeting, taking time to read the signs before walking into Gore.
Westminster has policies for student protests and demonstrations, found on Page 82 of the Student Handbook. Some rules include planning with the dean of students at least 48 hours ahead of time.
It also requires students to “not actively disrupt scheduled class meetings, teaching, administration, or disciplinary procedures and/or other university functions or authorized activities,” according to the handbook.
Student organizers said they spoke because they want to work with faculty, rather than create tension between the two demographics.
“We wanted […] to ask the faculty to be in solidarity with us,” said Marley Dominguez, a junior at Westminster and one of the organizers. “To give us their word and advocate for the students because we’re the ones who are sitting in those classrooms and learning every day from them. We know we both are a powerful force.”
Other rules require students to not use “amplified sound” or to block hallways or building exits. That’s why the organizers chose a silent protest, without obstructing access to the building entrances.
The silence was also a symbol for organizers, to represent how students have felt throughout the decision-making process.
“The protest was silent because we wanted to show the way students have been silenced in this decision,” Valdez said. “We’ve been silenced by the administration and we wanted to show that.”
The protest was held outside a regularly scheduled faculty meeting, where some of the organizers were invited to speak during the first 20 minutes. Only six students were allowed to be in the room, while other protesters marched to the Bassis Center to sign a petition and write personal statements.
Students plan to release list of demands
After the meeting, organizers reunited with protesters in Bassis to debrief how the presentation went and what they plan on for next steps.
“The point of today was to show administration, to show the people who make the decisions on the tuition increase, that students here are outraged,” Domniguez said. “Students here are frustrated with the increase. And they are here to show all of us are here supporting each other especially those who will be most hurt by the tuition increase.”
Dominguez said they have a list of demands they want to see from the administration, but these won’t be released until a future meeting is scheduled.
“We demanded at the faculty meeting to have a meeting with Board of Trustee members, the provost, with Dobkin, and to have the Diversity Council represented there as well to give our specific list of demands.
Dominguez said they hope to get the meeting scheduled as soon as possible, before the beginning of Spring semester.
“The earlier the better,” she said. “But we really just want to make sure we can have institutional change within Westminster.”
Students at the protest said a demand they have is for more transparency from the administration, including information on where their tuition money pays for.
“[I want administration to] actually answer our questions,” said Ryeleigh McCready, who protested Friday. “I thought that the email they sent in response to our first reaction was just a cover-up and didn’t really address any of our issues or questions. I don’t feel like they’re really looking out for the students or faculty at this point.”
Administration responds to student concerns
President Dobkin responded to student reactions in an email statement to The Forum Friday.
“We have amazing students who call Westminster their dream school,” Dobkin wrote. “They come here for many reasons, such as small classes, strong programs, a supportive community, and the opportunity to pursue their passions and apply what they learn.”
Dobkin said she acknowledges that students are struggling with the decision to raise tuition and feel as if their concerns aren’t being considered. She said the administration will do what they can to help students manage the increase so they can stay at Westminster.
“We simply can’t continue to provide the experience students have come to love without raising revenue,” Dobkin continued. “College revenue doesn’t all come from undergraduate student tuition; that tuition doesn’t cover all of our costs, nor do we expect it to do so. We’ll continue to work on additional forms of revenue, and perhaps more importantly right now, work next spring with students based on their individual needs and circumstances to provide additional support to the extent possible.”
Many students voiced concerns that solutions for increased scholarships will only be through FAFSA, which undocumented and international students don’t qualify for. However, Dobkin said these students will receive the same financial aid consideration.
The statement said the college is committed to serving all students, and FAFSA is only one of the tools they need to evaluate financial need.
“I value opportunities to hear students’ priorities and concerns,” Dobkin wrote. “I encourage students to attend one of the information sessions next month, which are being organized by the Associated Students of Westminster and Dean of Students, Karnell McConnell Black.”
These sessions will be held:
- Jan. 21 from 5 – 6 p.m.
- Jan. 22 from noon – 1 p.m.
- Jan. 23 from 9 – 10 a.m.
Locations will be announced in the coming weeks.