Day of Refusal: Students gather to protest university conditions

Students protested rising tuition and shared testimonials on poor University conditions. PHOTO BY SOPHIA MCCRACKIN/SF FOGHORN

“For $80,000 a year, how has USF failed you?” was the tagline for the Day of Refusal, a student-led protest against the administration’s use of tuition dollars held last Friday. Dressed in red, approximately 100 students gathered in Privett Plaza and marched through campus to McLaren Conference Center, Lone Mountain, and ended at Gleeson Library chanting along the way. At each stop, organizers read anonymously submitted student testimonials. 

The complaints ranged from bad cafeteria food and mold in their dorms, to inadequate resources for disabled students and a disregard for the multicultural community’s needs at USF. But the central issue was the price of tuition, which has risen 4.9% for the 2023-24 school year and saw a 3.5% increase the previous year. USF tuition has grown 49.8% since 2013, rising faster than similar schools like Santa Clara University, where tuition has grown 32.32% in the last decade. 

Some of the student organizers of the protest shared results from an anonymous survey by @usfca.debt.abolition on Instagram that circulated several months ago, asking students about the debt they hold and how they deal with it. The survey received around 600 responses, and according to the organizers, seven out of ten USF students feel that the price of an education here doesn’t match the quality. 

Students marched from the Lone Mountain East Lawn chanting, “What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now.” PHOTO COURTESY OF SOCKS JAM

Emily Becker, a first-year biology student said that while her scholarships enabled her to come to USF, the rising cost of tuition meant those scholarships couldn’t be stretched as far. “It makes me think about transferring somewhere else, because you’re not getting as many benefits as other schools where they’re paying a lot less,” she said.

Fourth-year environmental studies major Colin Oliver spoke to the Foghorn about the struggles that he’d seen many students face during his time at USF. “People aren’t supported enough to be able to stay,” he said. “I’ve had friends who’ve just been continually f—ed over by the University in terms of not being able to graduate on time, in terms of having their classes dropped at the beginning of every single semester, it just pisses me off.”

Roya Suliman, a third-year economics major, works two jobs to support herself fully as a first generation college student at USF. “For them to be increasing tuition without people’s knowledge is just so messed up,” she said. “I’m just so frustrated and fed-up.” Students received an email informing them of the fall tuition increase on Feb. 3, 2023.

The figure in the protest’s tagline, “$80,000 a year,” comes from USF’s own estimated 2023-24 student expenses, which includes variable factors such as room and board rates, books and supplies costs, transportation fees, and “personal expenses.”Ninety percent of USF students receive some form of financial aid, according to the University, and the average aid offered is $33,830. However the total estimated cost of attendance without scholarships for students living on or off campus totals to $83,662.

Additionally, USF does not offer need-based aid to international students, which places a greater financial burden on students from outside the United States. While it is uncommon for international students to be offered need-based institutional financial aid, it is offered at some universities.

In a statement to the Foghorn, USF Spokesperson Kellie Samson said, “USF takes seriously the challenges and pressures that financing a college education pose to students and families. Any increase in tuition and fees is examined closely, and we are committed to doing all we can in terms of operating the University in a cost-efficient and mission-focused manner.”

Many questioned the “cura personalis” mission of the University at the Day of Refusal. “Cura personalis,” or care for the whole person, is a value unilateral across Jesuit institutions. USF’s health and wellness website reads, “We believe that your physical, mental, emotional, intellectual, social, environmental, and spiritual health are integral to your success as a USF student.” Students said the University fails to uphold their mission based on unanswered complaints about the presence of mold in dorms, and a lack of consideration for Muslim students needing Ramadan-appropriate meals. 

Protestors also expressed disappointment and anger at the lack of resources for students of color, such as limited space for the Black Resource Center, chanting, “They use us for our diversity and ignore our adversity,” as they marched through campus. 

Maxwell Ayiko, a second-year politics major and self-proclaimed activist poet, shared some words in front of the Wolf and Kettle statue. “USF says its mission is to nurture a diverse, ever expanding community where persons of all races, ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, and social economic backgrounds are honored and accompanied. But I got a question for students who are working two to four jobs to go to school here. Do you feel honored being met with a 10k tuition increase in under two years? Hell no.” The crowd echoed him with a resounding “Hell no.” 

Excluding room and board, which differs based on students’ personal circumstances, the Foghorn found that, from the 21/22 fiscal year to the 23/24 fiscal year tuition and fees increased by only $4,750.

“To my fellow Black students,” Ayiko continued. “Do you feel accompanied when the majority of classes offered under the African American studies program does not have faculty to teach them, but are still on the course catalog because the University of San Francisco values diversity? No we do not.” 

Event organizers (left to right) Annika Becker, Alana Nayak, and Mateo González encouraged students to hang their posters up at the end of the protest. PHOTO COURTESY OF SOCKS JAM

From a lack of diversity in faculty to concerns about program funding, issues with the academic experience were a common theme among protesters. Hannah Clemenson, a third-year international studies major, came to the protest to express her displeasure at the Arabic language program being cut. “The Arabic classes at USF were some of the only ones in the bay area despite the fact that Arabic is a hugely influential and necessary language for the understanding of our global community. It seems as though we are stuck in a cycle of paying more and getting less,” said Clemenson.

One protest poster read “Why are all my teachers white?” In USF data from 2019, full-time faculty at USF were 55.8% white and part-time faculty were 51.9% white. According to the latest census report however, the students they teach identified as just 26.3% white.

“I just transferred here this semester and it was the worst decision I’ve ever made,” said one anonymous student testimonial, read by event organizers. “They completely messed up all of my credits and refused to apply them when I was told they would. My advisor wasn’t [assigned] until a month into the spring semester and he didn’t know who I was until a week ago.”

The University is anticipating a $39.5 million gap in the budget for fiscal year 2024, partly due to the low student retention rate. But the tuition increases to close the gap are driving students away. Maya Perez, a second-year performing arts and social justice major, shared her experiences at the protest. She said, “I am transferring outside of this school after this semester, after paying almost $50,000, which I will be paying off for the next 15 plus years of my life.” 

The future of these student concerns is unclear, but some remain hopeful about the protest’s reach. “I’ve been here long enough to be pessimistic about the system and about what marches and protests can do, but you can’t lose hope at the same time. You gotta keep going,” said Oliver.


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