University Park, IL,
15:47 PM

Hundreds Rally at GSU to Support Funding for Higher Ed

Over 350 people gathered in front of Governors State University on March 7 to rally in support of funding for higher education.

Over 350 people gathered in front of Governors State University on March 7 to rally in support of funding for higher education. They were students, faculty and staff, community members and alum. They came under a cover of clouds. They stood, shoulder to shoulder, in the cool air and listened to speakers—local politicians, fellow students, members of GSU administration—who shared their stories of why GSU matters to them and the community at large. And they did this as the State of Illinois settles into its ninth month of a budget stalemate that has left GSU, and all of Illinois’ public universities, without State funding.

In front of news cameras and reporters, Illinois state representatives and senators thundered alongside students and administration, challenging the crowd to continue to fight for their education and future.

“Advocacy is the key,” said Illinois State Representative Will Davis. “I have to believe if you advocate … that things will change, but you have to be willing.”

Rep. Davis earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration from GSU in 2009.

“I stand here as a product of not just one but two state universities. First at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and second, I am proud to be a Jaguar … I know how important education is. For one person to say that what you are doing has no value, for one person to stand in the way of you and your education – enough is enough.”

Although GSU has shouldered the responsibility for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) during this time and will continue to do so if necessary, liability for the grants is one of the key issues involved in the stalemate for students.

Yolanda Pitts, Student Ambassador to the GSU Board of Trustees addressed MAP funding when she spoke.

“When Illinois entered Fiscal Year 2016 with no state budget, it meant that 125,000 college students who had been promised financial aid through the Monetary Award Program, better known as MAP grants, might not receive those funds,” Pitts said.” The MAP grant is crucial to sustaining education. Our efforts must not stop here at this rally.”

Ben Almassi, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Affiliate Professor of Gender & Sexuality Studies in the Division of Humanities & Social Sciences at Governors State University and a member of University Professionals of Illinois (UPI) Local 4100, called Illinois’ state colleges and universities “intellectual and economic engines,” and urged the students to “move (Governor Rauner) to compromise” on the budget.

Matt Gentry, a Doctoral student in GSU’s Physical Therapy program whose op-ed in The Phoenix pled the case for student activism, talked about the importance of personal stories in the statewide fight for higher education funding.

”Our stories collectively make up the Southland fabric,” Gentry said. “(Illinois leadership needs to) hear our collective voices, listen to our stories.”

Gentry, a former Olympic wrestler, completed his undergraduate studies at Stanford University. When he spoke on Monday, he compared the two institutions.

“GSU may be smaller than Stanford, but our mission and the attitudes we foster are the same … Do not cut our stories short. We need help, and we need it now.”

When Illinois Senator Toi Hutchinson took over the podium, she directed her impassioned speech at the students. A former student of GSU herself, Senator Hutchinson shared pieces of her story as a young mother with a family completing her education. She stressed the value of the people being affected by the stalemate.

“You matter. Your lives matter, your dreams matter … I need you to know that there are people who hear you. We hear you, and we see you. You are not invisible in this.”

Amidst the chanting and discontent, there is a stream of hope. With the Illinois House only a few days into a one-month break, students and supporters have an opportunity to continue this conversation and further their own advocacy by contacting their Representatives before they return to Springfield and by spreading news about GSU and the budget crisis on social media.

Governors State University President Elaine P. Maimon was the last dignitary to address the students at the rally. Looking out at 200-plus signs, hundreds of frustrated but hopeful faces, the University’s president offered a message of joint strength on the road ahead.

“It’s by working together that we’re going to make sure that we create a better Illinois … We have decided to take the risk of MAP funding off your shoulders and put it on our shoulders. What that means is that we have faith,” she said. “Let’s move forward and make sure that we send the message that we are all for a strong Illinois which is a well-educated Illinois.”