September 20, 2018 | ° F

Tent State returns to advocate for public education

Students pitched their tents at Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue campus yesterday to start off a weeklong protest against University tuition hikes.

In its ninth year, Tent State University will give students a chance to camp out and call their legislators every day to encourage them to support higher education, said Sonia Szczesna, a Rutgers Student Union member.

"The set up is like a pseudo-university, where we have our own workshops throughout the day and it's sort of like an expression — being able to freely express who you are as a student seeking higher education," said Patrick Ree, a Rutgers Student Union member.

The Rutgers Student Union, which coordinated the event, rents a tent to any willing participant for $5 per night with goals of building a united coalition, a community and a space for all, said Ree, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

Tent State, which is affiliated with the same campaign as last Wednesday's  "Walk into Action," will feature three active tents on Voorhees Mall — the town hall tent, the legislative tent and the art city tent, said Szczesna, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.

"It's kind of like a main street, these are kind of like the little houses," said Ree, as he pointed to about 15 existing tents.

People will ask students what town they are from and encourage them to call their legislators in the legislative tent, Szczesna said. Students write letters and lobby to their congressman and to University President Richard L. McCormick to express student involvement in higher education.

"We get them to call them and say ‘Hey, I want you to support higher education. I'm a voter,'" she said. "This is all about showing that we vote and that we care."

At the town hall tent, people participating will discuss democracy and practice revolutionary democracy, and the Rutgers Student Union staff will have their nightly meetings to vote on how the next day will run, she said. Professors will also teach lectures and classes.

"On Thursday, I will be taking a class called ‘Organizing for Social Change,' and there's going to be a lecture about fundraising, which is really important when it comes to Tent State," Szczesna said.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-6, will participate at the opening ceremony today at 11 p.m. and Rep. Rush Holt, D-12, is scheduled to speak at the town hall tent at Tent State today at 11:30 a.m. about Pell Grants, she said.

As a creative outlet, the art city tent will host workshops ranging from poetry workshops to recycled instrument making and jamming, Ree said. People will work with recycled material collected throughout the Middlesex County area and unused material will be taken to a nearby recycling facility.

"We're taking the platform of up cycling — putting a consciousness into crafting by using materials that would otherwise be garbage and recreating it into something that people can actually use and admire," he said.

Tent State also features shows every night starting at 9 p.m., Ree said.

Local rapper Early Grey and Beatles cover band Hey Bulldog performed on the steps of Scott Hall on the College Avenue campus last night, Szczesna said.

Based on the Facebook event listing, about 600 people are expected to attend Tent State activities throughout the week, Szczesna said.

"The event in the past has been huge," she said. "It grows towards the end of the week — Wednesday and Thursday. It starts slowly and a lot of people do come out and we encourage people to come out."

Established in 2003 to oppose to the war in the Middle East and cuts to University funding, Szczesna said Tent State is about student rights and building student power.

Tent State is historically related to the Hoovervilles during the Great Depression, where Americans who did not have money camped out in makeshift homes after going to work, Ree said.

"[Tent State] is also visually striking because you'll see these people who will wake up in the morning with their backpacks and their books and they'll go straight to Murray or Scott Hall," Ree said.

The tents on campus symbolize students' homes when they seek higher education, but resort to cost-effective housing options, Szczesna said.

"If we keep cutting our education, we're not going to have anywhere to live. Education is not going to have a home," she said. "We're not going to have enough money to pay these increase in tuition fees."

Szczesna said in the past the event has been effective since state legislators decided to cut less money for University funding because a large number of people called.

"We're hoping to get our voices heard because if you do action and there isn't a follow up its shows that students don't care," she said. "This proves that apathy doesn't exist among the student population."

Ree said University students are unfamiliar with Tent State and there are particular ideas about the event deterring people from attending. He said some believe it is an exclusive club.

"Its really for everybody," he said. "Some people here are alumni and they just keep on coming back because they love it so much because it is a lot of fun."

One alumnus returning to this year's Tent State is Erik Straub, who said he returned to the event last night because it is something legislators know happen every year.

"It's the only real public display that's been put on every year done by students where we call our legislators and say we're students and we care about our higher education," Straub said.

He also said Tent State is where students garner more student activism within the community.

"It's a way that we meet new people every year," Straub said. "If you find five or six people that want to get involved, who wouldn't get involved otherwise, those people can do things all throughout the year and they can make a big difference."

Reena Diamante

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