By Kiernan Green
Hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms to protest the Ontario government’s announced changes to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and post-secondary fees at Gould and Victoria streets on March 20.
“We are gathered here today to demonstrate to the Ontario government that we care about OSAP funding being cut and that we want to defend student services,” said Cristal Hines, fourth-year social work student and a We The Students RU core organizer.
Students at the walkout rallied with placards and chanted along with speakers including Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) president Maklane deWever, Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) president Leizl Yance, Hines and others.
The campaign advocates for more provincial student grants than loans, increased support for student organizations and the protection of free speech.
“[The provincial government] would rather have us neck deep in debt when we graduate, would rather have us work precarious jobs while juggling school, would rather have some of us not even go back to school because we just can’t afford it,” said Yance. “They would rather have us suffer than have an educated population that is empowered and will keep them accountable.”
In January, the provincial government announced a 10 per cent tuition cut for domestic students in the province, along with cuts to OSAP grants and free tuition for low-income students. In addition, students will also have the ability to opt-out of certain ancillary fees, which are used to fund students’ unions, on-campus groups and services.
“I am one of the people on OSAP, and I know that if I don’t fight this, the next time I renew my OSAP contract this coming fall, I’m screwed. There’s no way I can pay it off,” said Rahi Chowdhuri, a fifth-year biomedical science student. “We have to do something. Each of us has more power than we know.”
Whether or not a student uses OSAP, everyone should care about the changes being made by the provincial government that affect universities, said deWever.
Because of OSAP’s cuts, “Ryerson’s going to be a very different campus next year,” said deWever. “We’re hoping to fight against that by sending a clear, resounding message that this is not okay.”
If the provincial government’s changes are made official on April 11, Hines said she hopes that students will mobilize to strike and “the government will see that students are not playing.”
“I think we got past the tipping point to make it huge, and I think this is the tipping point for not only having a big walk-out but for something much, much larger,” said deWever.