Wear the Square needs leadership, organization
Published: Tuesday, February 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 5, 2013 01:02
If the “Wear the Square” campaign wanted to send a clear message to Oregon State University President Ed Ray and the Oregon legislature that students are upset about tuition increases and won’t take it any longer, they failed.
If they wanted to reassure administrators and elected officials that the student body at the state’s land-grant university is apathetic and willing to accept the status quo, they succeeded beyond the wildest expectations of the big wigs on the sixth floor of Kerr.
I’m sorry, but 45 students — many of them graduate students who admitted while speaking to the crowd they don’t even pay tuition — do not inspire the sort of broad consensus that an issue as unifying as ending tuition increases should. It was a pathetic showing, and all the chants, shouting and holding signs couldn’t change the fact the rally was mostly ignored by the students passing through the MU quad.
This rally exposed what from the beginning has appeared to be a haphazard, poorly planned afterthought of a political movement. What should be an easy sell — the fact tuition has skyrocketed the last 10 years and something needs to be done — has instead garnered little enthusiasm from the student body. This is due to unclear goals and intentions, unorganized leadership and a lack of reaching out to any potential constituencies.
First, this movement needs to define clearly what it wants. Movements exist because they want to achieve goals. Movements do not exist — and certainly do not achieve — because people think it may be fun or look good on a resume later. A movement for the sake of a movement is a waste of time and air.
Wear the Square could say it wants a tuition freeze. It could say it would like to limit tuition increases to 3 percent. It could say it would like to burn down Kerr Administration. But until it defines what exactly it wants, instead of complaining about a problem we all know exists, it will not achieve anything.
Second, this movement needs leadership and organization. We as an editorial board here at the Barometer originally endorsed this campaign because we were excited about the potential of student leaders doing something about the absurd cost of tuition. What I have seen, though, is a couple of students handing out pieces of red felt in the quad, a website that only recently came online, a Facebook page and a student body that still doesn’t talk or care about wearing the square. The leaders of the movement need to be the ones organizing and defining the goals. You can still build a consensus and have goals and an intended direction. Without them, this movement will be as inconsequential as the rally that occurred in the quad yesterday.
Third, this movement needs to sell its goals to the people and get them on their side. Just because 393 people say they are going to come on the Facebook event page doesn’t mean they will show up in reality. Without students and others invested in the movement, no one is going to care or come.
Those organizing the campaign need to make the times and whereabouts of their meetings known. This movement needs to move beyond the bubble of ASOSU and become part of the broader campus. Organize meetings that include everyone.
Pitches need to be made in classrooms and cultural centers, in fraternity houses and to the people eating lunch in the Memorial Union. Until a broad spectrum of people come together, all the red felt squares in the world aren’t going to mean anything.
The most upsetting thing about seeing only 45 people show up to a rally against tuition increases is how important stopping the rapidly inflating cost of tuition is. Tuition is too damn high and no one is doing anything about it, neither administrators nor legislators.
“Tuition increases is going to make it more difficult to pay for food and rent,” said Sage Barnard, a sophomore in environmental studies. “If tuition increases, I’m going to have to stop buying food and I’m probably going to have to stop buying textbooks.”
And it is exactly because of people like Barnard that this movement needs to succeed. When you have a woman who is taking 17 credits a term to graduate as soon as possible and working a part time job to pay for school having to make the frightening choice of whether to feed herself or pay for an education, you know something has to change.
And so I challenge the leaders of Wear the Square to work harder, organize better and get the message out. Because 45 people shouting and holding signs in the quad won’t amount to anything.
Don Iler is a senior in history. The opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Barometer staff. Iler can be reached at email@example.com on Twitter @doniler.