Heavy rain and a gloomy atmosphere did not stop Rutgers student activists from protesting an event intended to kick off a year-long celebration in front of Old Queens called “Rutgers: Revolutionary for 250 Years," and showing Rutgers what revolutionary "truly looks like."
“Our Rutgers Revolution” was intended to call attention to injustices occurring in the University and demand action from the administration, according to their Facebook event page. They want to raise public awareness and also help supporters transition from offering passive to active support.
After the unveiling of Rutgers' birthday gift at the ceremony, protestors emerged marching together, chanting and holding signs they had made beforehand.
“We the students are here to be heard, the students united will never be defeated,” the protestors chanted together. “We are the revolution. Our voices have been silenced for too long, we are here to tell you what our revolution looks like.”
Their passionate chanting was heard.
The protestors caught the attention of the audience and staff who surrounded them who both had different reactions to the demonstration.
A woman in the crowd raised her first high and said “power to the people," while a staff member told them to do their demonstration elsewhere and asked if they could get off the stage.
Protestors took turns speaking, sharing their stories and reasons for fighting with the crowd. When one protestor spoke, the others repeated their words after.
A first-generation student spoke about Rutgers being built on Lenape land, yet they never received any credit.
One protestor demanded equal representation for all. She spoke about the representation of minorities at Rutgers, where 12 percent of students are Latino, 7 percent is black and exactly 21 are Native American students.
Another protestor spoke about how Rutgers Athletics spent $36 million from student tuition payments while professors have to fight for a living wage. This is not revolutionary, she said.
Their posters listed their demands. Some included free higher education, $15 minimum wage and disappointment in the Big Ten.
Demonstrators from different student organizations protested in mutual solidarity against Rutgers' administration.
Alec Roth, a School of Environmental and Biological sciences senior, was protesting as a member of the Rutgers Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign. Their aim is for the Board of Trustees to divest from fossil fuels companies and gradually reinvest in clean energy companies.
“We want Rutgers to take real revolutionary steps and take into account the goals of students and faculty,” he said.
Board members have listened but have not taken action, said Kerry Dyke, a Mason Gross School of the Arts first-year student and another member of the Rutgers Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign.
“We are fighting for a cleaner and healthier earth for future Rutgers students,” she said.
Monica Torres, a School of Arts and Sciences junior representing Rutgers' Native American Cultural Association, said they were all from different student organizations fighting for the same thing — for their voices to be heard.
“I am fighting for the representation of Native Americans. There are only 21 at Rutgers and they have lower retention rates and higher dropping out rates in school,” she said.
Rutgers is a public university that supposedly supports diversity, said Julissa Mercado, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. But Rutgers is not interested in the issues students are fighting for, only in making money.
“Our University's forefathers were slave owners and the economy was based off of slave labor and Rutgers wants to claim revolutionary without claiming years of colonization and marginalization of students of color,” she said.
Rutgers is functioning as a bureaucracy and University President Robert L. Barchi is treating it as a business, Mercado said. They are focused on tuition intakes and athletics, not on student education or the salary of professors and lecturers.
On Tuesday, Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards wrote a letter to the editor published in the Targum that was later emailed to students. He acknowledged the University's early slaveholder benefactors and said a committee will be formed to study the history of enslaved and disenfranchised people at the University.
Greg Briskin, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, said students are not being heard.
“It's kind of a joke how it is not being talked about. We received an email acknowledging how the University was built by slaveowners and on Lenape land but nothing is being done about the issues today and how the University is affecting people right now,” he said.