BOCA RATON, Fla. — A steadily growing crowd of students gathered at Florida Atlantic University on Thursday afternoon to add their voices to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Like other Occupy gatherings, participant Gonzalo Vizcardo stressed there was no formal structure to the event. He called it a group of "like-minded students who organized to have an effect."
"We are in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy movements across the country," he said.
Six students grew to nearly 40 within 15 minutes as passers-by joined in. Within an hour, more than 100 were marching through the breezeway of the Social Sciences center.
All were invited to write their own protest signs with the placards and markers provided.
Some read: "We are the 99% and We Need Help!" and "Tuition Hikes Are Unacceptable."
Articulate and vocal, several students took turns stepping to the center of the group's sign-toting circle to list their grievances.
They expressed frustration with 15 percent tuition increases and a 20 percent unemployment rate among graduates.
"Students of FAU are fed up with tuition hikes," Andrea Skolnick said. "It's out of control, absolutely out of control."
They accused FAU of having a hiring freeze and cutting teachers' pay despite increased enrollment that has bloated class size.
"Wages are being cut by 3 percent and the teachers are not happy because they went from having a class of 20 to having a class of 50 people," student Alex Casuso said. "Our grades are dropping because teachers just don't care anymore because they're not being paid a fair amount of money."
"Where's the money going?" she asked rhetorically. "Stadiums."
FAU's new football stadium will host its first home game on Saturday at 4 p.m.
More courses are being offered online to save money but the savings are not passed along to students, Vizcardo said.
Casuso took issue with students having to pay $300 per semester for parking and gyms they don't use.
Students also felt there is too much corporate influence at colleges and universities.
"At this campus we have a BankAtlantic branch but the university has refused the possibility of a credit union run by students and staff," Vizcardo said.
"The system has to change but then you realize you can't even do that under the current rules," Geoff Robbins said. "We're finally making our voices heard."
Some students happened upon the rally and didn't know what to make of it.
"I'm interested to see what makes them angry enough to occupy," Rene Davila said. "I'm not totally getting the big message yet."
"I think rising tuition rates are a big deal," Stephen Brecher said. "Especially with some of the laws they passed in California in regards to illegal immigrants being eligible for complete financial aid."
Social science student and retiree Jim Higgins, 64, joined the rally because he's concerned about his fellow students' job prospects.
"These young people, they don't have a lot of hope," Higgins said. "I'm glad to see them out here [because] their future is very bleak. I feel for them."
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