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Students occupy UMass Boston to protest tuition, fee hikes

Strategy based on Occupy action

Borrowing a page from the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement, about 20 students occupied the campus center at the University of Massachusetts Boston yesterday to protest cuts in public education spending and hikes in tuition.

“Public universities were built for the 99 percent, and we intend on maintaining that,’’ said Amanda Achin, a 22-year-old political science student at UMass Boston. “We need to end the wars, tax the rich, and fund public education.’’

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Setting up a few tents inside the campus center, the protesters said they plan to camp there indefinitely.

Distributing fliers, student occupiers said they supported many of the broad ideas put forth by the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Boston movements, but said this occupation focuses on education.

Last year, UMass trustees approved a 7.5-percent increase in tuition and fees, raising the price for a semester at UMass Boston in spring 2012 to $6,613.50 for in-state students.

“There is a lot of frustration among students about where the school is going and about them not having a say in it,’’ said Stasha Lampert, a 23-year-old student studying economics and political science.

Many students walking by watched with interest the events in their campus center.

“I agree with the importance of keeping education open to the public, but I disagree with the demonstrations and camping out in the place where people are studying,’’ said Joe Watson, 26, a premed student. “I know that some of us agree with the base message, but there is a time and place and it shouldn’t be in a student’s learning environment.’’

Others, like prospective student Ashley Inza, 18, said the message is important.

“No, I don’t think tuition should be increased at all,’’ said Inza. “I like how the movement is trying to change things for the better.’’

Many of the protesters said something needs to be done to decrease costs and make the university more accessible to people of all income levels.

“At the end of the day, I’m out here for the guy from Dorchester who could have 10 or 20 years ago afforded to go here, but is now being priced out,’’ said Rob Birmingham, 23, who is studying economics and political science.

In a statement, the university said: “UMass Boston respects our students’ rights to free speech and interest in advocating for change. We look forward to working with them in a cooperative manner.’’

Patrick D. Rosso can be reached at patrick.d.rosso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @PDRosso.
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