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UBC Students Fight The Power

By: Sheliza Mitha

For nearly as long as there has been a University of British Columbia, there have been students to be reckoned with. Evidence of student protests date back 100 years to 1922 with The Great Trek, which disrupted the status quo and challenged authority. Students united under a single cause, a singular voice calling for change. In this case, the building of a university campus.  


Years later, students would hold the earliest known tuition protest. In an attempt to gain funds, the university proposed raising tuition in the 1930s during the final few years of The Great Depression. Let me repeat that one more time for good measure. The university introduced a tuition hike at one of the worst, bleakest times in the economic history of North America. 

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So while students worked to rally and support building a university campus, some 15 years later their perseverance and advocacy were rewarded with… a tuition hike. Students undoubtedly felt ignored and blindsided after their earlier action and commitment to building the school was acknowledged with an unaffordable tuition increase in the midst of a historically tough economy. (No good deed goes unpunished, right?)


Calling on their activist predecessors, students fought and mounted a fierce protest with incredible success. The tuition increase was killed. Tuition, however, was increased in the 1960s and again by 10 percent in the mid-1980s. When another tuition hike was proposed in the fall of 1989, students had enough and found themselves calling to the past and channeling their predecessors to fight the power… yet again.   


Here, it’s important to note that back in 1989, UBC already had one of the highest tuition fees in the country, and BC students faced higher costs of living than students in other areas of Canada. Ahem. Sound familiar? 


After a series of protests organized by fierce activist and student Vanessa Geary (and wholly supported by the AMS) that were reminiscent of the passionate and persistent student cries and rallies during The Great Trek, UBC students once again achieved success. 


Fast forward three decades, and we now once again find ourselves in historic times: COVID, a desperate housing crisis, unreasonably high cost of living, extreme rates of inflation not seen in 50 years… and yet another tuition hike. 


What The Great Trek and other protests have shown us is this: student power and empowerment are real and to be reckoned with. Never stop fighting, especially when institutions ignore the unprecedented challenges facing people (and students) every single day.

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