Last Thursday was unlike any other day at USF. A human chain of over two hundred individuals clasped hand in hand around the Welsh Field wall of St. Ignatius Church to protest Upward Bound’s discontinuation at USF. The protest was titled “Circle for Social Justice,” a demonstration that included a march around the church.
Bound For Social Justice organized the event. It is an ad-hoc on-campus organization dedicated to keeping the program at USF.
“It’s a horrible decision. [Upward Bound has] given so much to me,” said Christian Cobar, a senior at Phillip & Sala Burton High School in the City and an Upward Bound student who clasped hands with the people to his left and right.
Andrea Mejia, a fellow Upward Bound enrollee and senior at Burton High, came to defend the program because it had made college a possibility for her. “Upward Bound is one of the main reasons I’m going to college,” she said. “This argument about ‘space’ just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Mejia and Cobar were just two of a large group who protested the university’s decision to no longer renew the federal contract on which USF’s Upward Bound program operates.
The federal program, which helps underrepresented, low-income, and first-generation high school students attain college through academic support, has been housed at USF since 1966. Currently, the program is quartered in the Underhill building on Lone Mountain, sharing the building with ROTC’s classrooms. USF decided to not renew funding because the university needs the office’s facitlity space.
More than two hundred demonstrators attended the protest, including USF faculty, graduate and undergraduate USF students, Upward Bound students, Upward Bound faculty, community activists, and passersby.
A rally followed the march. Rev. Amos Brown of the Third Baptist Church of San Francisco and Rev. Malcolm Byrd of the First A.M.E. Zion Church spoke to the demonstrators, who by that time had organized around these and other addressees into a large circle encompassing most of Welsh Field.
“We did meet with the President [of USF]”, said Brown, who three weeks prior attended a town hall meeting at USF to advocate against Upward Bound’s removal. “There was a good faith meeting to work as a team to keep the program alive,” he said before he addressed the protesters at large, adding that he was, “cautiously optimistic, because there has not been a clarion commitment on the part of [Rev. Stephen Privett, S.J.].”
On March 1, two days before the protest, Privett issued a statement regarding the meeting he had that day with Brown, Byrd, and others, including Vice Provost of Diversity Engagement Dr. Mary Wardell and School of Education Dean Dr. Walt Gmelch.
In the statement, Privett wrote, “We agreed that Chuck Smith, Vice Chair of the USF Board of Trustees, Mary Wardell and [Upward Bound Director] Janice Dirden-Cook will work together to develop scenarios for an Upward Bound program that is sustainable and enjoys strong community-based support.”
While Privett said USF “believes strongly” in the program, he emphasized that “there is no easy solution to our severe space limitations on campus”.
Privett closed the statement by acknowledging the university’s commitment to the community, noting USF students completed over 400,000 hours of community service-learning last year.
“Compassion is not shown by going to the Bayview and planting a garden,” said Brown as he addressed all at the demonstration, “it is to be with [the underprivileged], to walk with them, to talk with them”.
Another addressee, who quoted the same 400,000-hour statistic which Privett included in a private e-mail to a student which was then re-circulated on bright yellow sheets at the protest, said, “Why stop there?”
Earlier, Politics Professor James Taylor communicated his support for Upward Bound as he marched around St. Ignatius. He spoke of the general desire of the Policy Boar, which is USF’s professors’ assocation, to find an alternative for Upward Bound’s eviction. Citing what he saw as the administration’s failure to include the larger university community, such as faculty and staff, in this decision, he said, “the only recourse is to demonstrate.”
“As a family unit, I [felt]…disappointed with my family,” said another demonstrator, Darlene Conwell. Herself an alum of Upward Bound at Stanford University who obtained her Masters degree in 2000 from USF’s School of Education. Conwell is the director of Upward Bound’s Math and Science component at USF. She was heartened to witness a large turnout in Welsh Field. “What’s happened here has…filled me with joy to realize there was this support I didn’t know existed from students of the university,” she said.
Graduate and undergraduate students alike turned out to the event. One of these was a School of Edcuation graduate student who posed the question, “after 45 years of hosting [Upward Bound] has USF’s mission suddenly changed?”
“Being on campus is a valuable part of the program,” undergraduate student Jason Farrera said. He feels Upward Bound is needed at USF because “it allows these kids to see what their future can be.”
Onlooker Davis Kantor, a physics major, stood at the entrance of Gleeson Library. “I don’t think it should be cut,” he said, “I don’t have all the details, but there’s definitely space [for Upward Bound].”
Peter Nora and Danica Swenson, undergraduates viewed the protest from afar. “It’s the biggest demonstration I’ve seen at USF.” said Nora, a sophomore.
“There’s always space,” said Swenson.
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