Amid a sea of yellow shirts, LSA freshman G.S. Suri backed away from the microphone. His mouth sealed shut with red duct tape, Suri returned to his seat on the floor. Holding his head in his hands, he began to cry.
Suri is one of about 200 members of the Coalition for Tuition Equality who gathered at the Board of Regents meeting Thursday to provoke the University to adopt more progressive policy on tuition for undocumented students in the state.
At the beginning of University President Mary Sue Coleman’s opening remarks, Suri and his fellow protesters removed their sweatshirts, jackets and shirts to reveal yellow shirts. Coupled with strips of red tape covering their mouths, the students said they intended to provide a voice to the estimated 29,000 undocumented students in Michigan.
During public comment, Suri stood as the first representative of CTE. Instead of speaking, he moved through a series of posters while a recorded speech played.
“Today, I stand in silence,” his recorded voice stated. “I stand in protest for those 29,000 voices the University silences every day.”
Currently, the University charges out-of-state tuition for Michigan students who entered the United States without documentation or overstayed their visas. CTE encourages reformation of the University’s tuition policy to allow many of these students to pay the same rates as their in-state peers.
LSA sophomore Daniel Morales, a founding member of the organization, said the board’s inaction on the issue deeply affects many people who “are systematically denied their right to (be at the University) because of their financial circumstances.”
“Every year the University doesn’t act on this is another year where we are barring individuals who have already been accepted to the University, have risen to the top ranks, are the leaders and the best,” Morales said. “If you work for a living, if you pay Michigan taxes, not only should you be guaranteed in-state tuition, but you should be guaranteed financial support.”
He said he hopes that incoming Democratic regents Mark Bernstein and Shauna Ryder Diggs will assist in efforts towards achieving tuition equality.
Maria Cotera, associate professor of American Culture, also spoke in favor of a policy change. Cotera, a faculty member of the University’s Latina/o Studies Program, told the regents that equal access to education is necessary for a functioning democracy.
“Our support for this effort embodies our deep commitment to diversity and to the production of nationally recognized scholarship on Latino communities in the United States,” Cotera said.
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the University expects to receive a report on tuition equality from CTE by January.
“What’s going on is a really thoughtful process to carefully examine a very complex and difficult issue,” he said. “Where it goes from there, we’d have to wait for the report first.”
He added that creating residency protocols is a complex task and includes issues of defining residency and policy concerning federal aid.
None of the regents or Coleman responded directly to the students’ speeches during the public comment portion of the meeting. If the report is complete by January, the regents will be first able to consider it at their Feb. 21 meeting.
—Daily News Editor Austen Hufford contributed to this report.