At the University of Toronto, St. George campus, approximately 450 students and faculty members walked out Wednesday to protest against the new Ontario Student Assistance Program changes brought in by the Ford government.
Throughout Ontario, 17 post-secondary campuses held a “Student Walkout” to protest against the Ford government’s changes to OSAP that are coming into effect for the fall semester starting Aug. 1.
Mature student Susan Froom goes to school part-time while working part-time.
Froom came out to protest due to her concern for what exactly the Ford government will be doing to post–secondary education in the province.
“The 10 per cent tuition cut really will only benefit the wealthiest of students. Families who don’t currently qualify for OSAP will be better off under it, however, that’s not most students,” Froom said.
Froom, who is in her fifties, is currently in her fourth year studying political science and philosophy. She has applied for OSAP before when she was off work with a disability and couldn’t work, and for Froom it was a huge help in her life.
“Most students are going to be hurt by the proposed OSAP cuts and the cuts towards the grants. They’re also going to be hurt particularly if they want to pursue a second entry degree like teaching, like nursing, like any professional schools. The funding is being cut down to 50 per cent as opposed to 100 per cent.”
Another concern for Froom was the Student Choice Initiative.
“It’s a real attack not just on marginalized groups but on the very idea of student democracy. It’s a big concern and we really hope students push back on this,” Froom said.
The Student Choice Initiative is a government mandate that allows students to opt-out of student services.
Some of these fees will continue to be mandatory, such as health and counselling, athletics, recreation, WalkSafe programs, and academic support. These opt-outs of student services could include student unions, equity groups, and groups that give a voice to marginalized students.
As students marched down St. George Street, Colleen Burke, the president of United Steelworkers 1998 (USW) explained why support staff at the schools are concerned.
“Our members are the people who provide a lot of the student services and a 10 per cent tuition cut is going to mean budget cuts, that means fewer services for students,” she said.
Burke said members of the administration are some of the same people who help students with mental health issues and with such a big budget cut, this can mean students will “fall in between the cracks.”
The union representing contract teachers at U of T also joined the protests.
“Today I was talking about building solidarity between workers and students because the Student Choice Initiative and the changes to post secondary are going to have a ripple down effect that affects workers as well, some as early as May and September,” said Jess Taylor, the chair of Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3902.
Taylor said it was important for her to attend the walk-out because push back on the Ford government matters. She said once students are affected it can mean unions are also affected by the changes.
The protests are the latest to be organized by the Canadian Federation of Students.
“We need to continue doing walkouts, and continue doing outreaches and building in more people to the conversation,” said Nour Alideeb, the chairperson for Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, in an interview at the protest.
I walked out. With OSAP changes I might not be eligible anymore for it. This is not okay and it definitely isn’t fair for students. What’s the point of being in school if we can’t even afford post-secondary education? #OSAP #Walkout
— Lauryn Pfanzelt (@lauryn_pfanzelt) March 20, 2019
Jecema Hewitt, 21, is the vice president for the Centennial College Student Association at the Story Arts Centre in Toronto. She explained how important these rallies and protests are to making sure that the student’s voices are heard, but suggested these events need to be organized properly.
“I definitely feel like making your point heard is a good thing, however, I feel like there’s a right way and a wrong way to do that,” she explained in an interview with The Toronto Observer. “You don’t want to say, make a huge scene of things, and then have a really bad backlash.”
Ontario premier Doug Ford has recently admonished students for speaking out against his government’s changes to education, calling the students “Marxists” and saying they need to wash out their “filthy mouths.”
Hewitt currently uses OSAP to fund most of her studies in the bachelor of public relations management program. She said that due to these cuts to OSAP, she is unsure if she will be able to afford to pay for school. She receives $10,000 a year to fund her studies which covers her tuition and some of her textbooks. She said she is also considering getting a second or third job.