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Florida University Students Protest for Equality

Rachel Iacovone

Boycotters showed their presence through the lack of it for “A Day Without Immigrants” last Thursday. Friday, they returned, showing a very strong presence in solidarity with the national strike against the Trump administration.

On Florida Gulf Coast University’s campus, more than 50 students, professors and members of the community joined the national Strike4Democracy through a protest, which began in front of the Lutgert College of Business.

Freshman Josh Ballin was walking out of class when he was pulled into the crowd by a friend and ultimately ended up leading the line of marchers.

“Well, this is obviously not a protest against FGCU,” Ballin said. “It’s just for America as a whole. We think that this ban on refugees and this anti-immigration stuff that’s going on with Trump and our government is disgusting.”

The majority of the crowd carried handmade signs. While many had messages related to immigration, others featured additional social injustices — like the largest sign, which read, “Her rape story is our rallying call.”

“Right now, what you’re seeing is we have Black Lives Matter, people from the Women’s March, gender equality, Planned Parenthood and a few other groups as well,” Kauth said. “So, it’s a big collective. We’re calling it the fragmented majority.”

FGCU student John Kauth helped organize the event. He says he wants little recognition though, as it was F.U.S.E. who really got campuses across the state to rally.

F.U.S.E. stands for Florida University Students for Equality. Amanda Marquez, who marched in a black and green F.U.S.E. shirt, struggled to talk through her scratchy throat after chanting and shouting throughout the protest.

Credit Rachel Iacovone

  “We are the future of the country as far as we are getting our education and we’re going to be running things, but in the meantime, our diversified education is important to us,” Marquez said. “I want to be able to take classes with my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, with my fellow LGBTQ members. That diversified education is what makes us better people and better humans.”

FGCU’s vice president of Student Affairs, Dr. J. Michael Rollo, nearly put the brakes on the students’ efforts though. As they approached the entrance to the student union, he stopped the crowd to tell them they weren’t allowed in, citing a university policy barring indoor demonstrations.

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But, without citing the exact policy, there was no way to stop the group from entering the food court area — where one student briefly jumped up on a table and hoisted a sign that read, “Make America Think Again.”

Once the obstacle of entering was resolved, the group faced the obstacle that was, for many of them, their fellow students. Many filmed them, in obvious support or evident disgust, while others, still, shouted at them to give it up or, simply, repeatedly chanted “Trump.”

Matthew Wendrow sat at a table with some of the most vocally opposed students. Though he didn’t agree with the protestors’ message, he says they have every right to peacefully protest.

“This is fine,” Wendrow said. “Like, they totally can do this and hang out and put posters and stand here. That’s totally fine, but if it gets to the next level about causing chaos or violence or yelling or something that you can’t help, it’s like, what is this going to do to Trump? What is this going to do to anything? He’s president already.”

Organizer John Kauth instructed the group not to engage with anyone in opposition to their message. In fact, they mainly sat in silence.

F.U.S.E.’s current goal is to promote and get more signatures for its Change.org petition that urges state universities to vocally denounce the current administration’s immigration policy. Ultimately, F.U.S.E. hopes Florida universities will become sanctuary campuses, meaning they will adopt policies protecting their undocumented students from Immigration Services.

Credit Rachel Iacovone

Rachel Iacovone is a reporter and associate producer of Gulf Coast Live for WGCU News. Rachel came to WGCU as an intern in 2016, during the presidential race. She went on to cover Florida Gulf Coast University students at President Donald Trump's inauguration on Capitol Hill and Southwest Floridians in attendance at the following day's Women's March on Washington.Rachel was first contacted by WGCU when she was managing editor of FGCU's student-run media group, Eagle News. She helped take Eagle News from a weekly newspaper to a daily online publication with TV and radio branches within two years, winning the 2016 Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Award for Best Use of Multimedia in a cross-platform series she led for National Coming Out Day. She also won the Mark of Excellence Award for Feature Writing for her five-month coverage of an FGCU student's transition from male to female.As a WGCU reporter, she produced the first radio story in WGCU's Curious Gulf Coast project, which answered the question: Does SWFL Have More Cases of Pediatric Cancer?Rachel graduated from Florida Gulf Coast University with a bachelor's degree in journalism.