University Park, IL,
12:14 PM

GSU Students Rally Again in Springfield

All of us—students, staff, administration, faculty—at the best of times and in the darkest hours—are facilitators of hope for our communities.
Professor Daniel Nearing

Under threat of rain, hundreds of students, faculty members, and administrators representing universities from around the state gathered in Springfield on Wednesday, April 20 to rally yet again for higher education funding.

They came by bus and car, in groups of 20, 40, and more. People spilled out from beneath the packed, yellow and white tent across from the Statehouse where legislators and student representatives bellowed from a podium, at times bringing the crowd spontaneously to their feet with chants of “Fund our future!” punctuating the speeches. Television crews interviewed students on the small hillside next to the rally. Milling amid the administrators and media were a few of the young folks who arguably have the most at stake in the current fiscal standoff—children.

Yolanda Pitts, a student in the Master’s in Accounting program at Governors State University, rode to Springfield on a bus with approximately 40 representatives from GSU. With her were her 11 and 15 year old sons.

“I’m teaching my children what the classroom doesn’t teach them,” Pitts said. “For them to be with me and see what goes on, to hear the prep talk on the bus as we go over the talking points, for them to think critically about what’s going on and ask questions—that’s important. I want them to see that Mommy is trying to put things in place for their future. If we don’t do this now, where will the funding be for them when they go to college?”

Where, indeed? Ten months in, the budget is still at an impasse, although a late-night breakthrough on April 21 led to the Friday passage of a bill that will float public universities and community colleges through the summer with over $600 million in stop gap funding. GSU will see $6.97 million of that allotment, including MAP funds for students.

State Representative Al Riley, in whose district GSU is located, said in a phone call from Springfield on Friday, “The job isn’t over yet. We have some of the best universities in the country. I urge students to keep up with the issues and get behind the efforts to fund education the way it should be. It’s a right, not a privilege.”

The budget impasse is affecting all of Illinois’ institutions. The call for solidarity is loud, though, and more members of the collective educational community are standing and fighting.

“If we can hold on just a little bit longer, stand just a little bit stronger, and run just a little bit further, then we will rise out of the ashes … We will journey on to a brighter future and see the sunrise of victory as we stand on the mountain of hope.” Joe Haynes—a student trustee from Harper College, one of GSU’s Dual Degree Program partners—delivered his words like a sermon that sent chills through the rally tent, invoking shades of a young Baptist minister.

Daniel Nearing, full professor and program coordinator for GSU’s MFA in Independent Film and Digital Imaging, drove himself to Springfield that day.

“There's a lot of inescapable bluster at these events,” Nearing said, “but then there are those unexpected moments when your heart is in your throat, when a disenfranchised student speaks and you understand more deeply why you have found yourself on the path of education. All of us—students, staff, administration, faculty—at the best of times and in the darkest hours—are facilitators of hope for our communities. I drove down to Springfield because it feels like we're still not being heard. The time has come to demonstrate our convictions in person with the only people who are in a position to repair the damage.”

Betsy Joseph, Director of Auxiliary Services and University Housing at GSU, accompanied the students on the bus. She said that she made the trek to Springfield because she “needed to stop sitting on the sidelines and add (her) voice to make it clear to legislators that they need to do something.”

“I’m really proud of our students,” she said, “and the amount of energy and commitment that they give not only to their education but also to their fellow students and the future of GSU. It makes me proud to be a part of this university.”

In the grass adjacent to the rally tent, five-year-old Laniyah Arsberry covered herself in stickers. She wore a Governors State sweatshirt and stayed close to her mother, Jessica Love-Jordan, a 26-year-old second-year student in the Master’s in Addiction Studies program at GSU.

“We needed to be here. I felt like it was necessary. Laniyah and I were having a conversation about advocacy and what standing up for what you believe in looks like,” Love-Jordan said. “I wanted to give my daughter the opportunity to see that it’s more than sitting around a table talking.”