In light of the recent increase in citizen activism around the world, particularly Arab Spring and now the Occupy movement, students at the University of Mary Washington have also picked up the spirit of dissent with a notably greater number of protests and rallies on campus.
President Rick Hurley said that he noticed more activism this year than what he remembers from recent years, and he is pleased to see UMW students taking a stand on the issues that are important to them.
Events this semester have included protests to Karl Rove and Ken Cuccinelli’s speeches on campus, and a rally to “Keep the Ban” on uranium mining in Virginia.
Senior Evan McLaughlin, president of UMW’s campus chapter of Virginia Organizing, helped conduct two of the protests this year along with the help of UMW chapter of Virginia Organizing.
Virginia Organizing is an organization that works with Virginians to voice their opinions about certain issues. McLaughlin said that he was alerted about Cuccinelli’s and Rove’s planned visits to UMW through the organization.
The protest against Cuccinelli was on Sept. 17 in Jepson Hall, and the protest against Rove was on Sept. 28 in front of George Washington Hall.
“We had a lot of people and a lot of energy for both protests,” McLaughlin said. “At the Cuccinelli protest we had about 50 or 60, and at the Rove protest we had about 35.”
“We wanted to show the students of Mary Washington that political consciousness and action is alive and well on this campus. We wanted to give students an example of how to participate in political action,” he added.
McLaughlin also said, “I feel that our actions truly did start a conversation about dissent, social justice and free speech on campus.”
Junior Graham Givens created the Keep the Ban Rally at UMW, which was held on Oct. 20 in front of Lee Hall. The Keep the Ban Rally advocated keeping the current ban on uranium mining in Virginia. Without this act, 29 million tons of toxic waste, caused by uranium mining, could leak to the Rappahannock River, polluting Fredericksburg’s water supply, according to Givens.
“I wanted to raise awareness about this extremely important issue occurring in our state today that could affect us here at UMW,” he said. “We have the ability today to save thousands from the negative health effects and from the destruction of their water supplies.”
Sophomore Fariss Hodder, who attended the Keep the Ban Rally, said, “I think it’s wonderful that UMW students and community members can come together to support a clean environment in Virginia because that’s what Keep the Ban is all about.”
She added that she believes it’s really exciting because college is the time to define yourself and figure out what you stand for. She said she is proud of the strong political voice UMW has found.
Occupy Mary Wash, influenced by Occupy Wall Street, is another movement happening this year at UMW.
They held their first general assembly on Oct. 13 in Monroe Hall and have had weekly meetings since then. At the general assemblies, the students have discussed numerous issues concerning tuition increases and transparency at the university.
They have planned an “occupation” for this weekend to coincide with the Board of Visitors meeting.
Sophomore Hurmet Ahmed said that he had not attended any of the events but thought the protests and rallies this year were a great way for people to come together and find a common ground, since having similar causes can unite people.
“I think it’s really good that people are passionate about things that are going on and that they want to voice how they feel about it,” Ahmed said.
Photo by Marie Sicola.