Fund EIU selected as DEN People of the Year

Junior+political+science+major+Austin+Mejdrich+addresses+those+assembled+at+the+FundEIU+rally+on+Feb.+5+on+the+Library+Quad.

Jason Howell

Junior political science major Austin Mejdrich addresses those assembled at the FundEIU rally on Feb. 5 on the Library Quad.

Stephanie Markham, Editor-in-Chief

What began as another frigid February day now marks the pages of Eastern’s history as the time when an unprecedented sea of school spirit and political unrest flooded the campus with one goal in mind — to Fund EIU.

For those behind the scenes of the Feb. 5 rally on the Library Quad, the week leading up to it was one of the busiest of their lives. None of them predicted their efforts would inspire nearly 2,000 people to show up in support, or that their fight would be just as needed three months later as it was on day one.

When Fund EIU was started, Eastern had been without a state appropriation for almost eight months, and 200 employees were just being notified that they might not be returning to work.

That’s when Kate Klipp, a 2007 Eastern graduate and Charleston resident, decided to start a rally and organized faculty members, union leaders and students to get things moving.

Klipp said her No. 1 goal was to create a bridge between the university and community, so she reached out to people from both facets that she knew were passionate.

Paul Danyi, a political science professor, took on roles including closely analyzing movement in Springfield and enlisting students to get involved.

“We believed really strongly that this couldn’t just be some faculty and community thing, that it’s almost strange to talk about students plus community as if students are not also community,” Paul Danyi said.

Four students who took the reigns on recruiting include junior political science majors Catie Witt, Frida Arellano, Austin Mejdrich and Jack Cruikshank.

Witt said they all were in Paul Danyi’s class together; he prompted them to help out, so they began mobilizing students the Friday before the rally.

On Witt’s part, this included slipping fliers underneath doors in Greek Court and reaching out to resident assistants and the presidents of every registered student organization.

“Somehow, I don’t know how, but somehow in one week’s span we had all those students knowing,” Witt said. “Everyone was sharing everything, and everyone knew about it.”

Arellano took a similar job, promoting the rally among RSOs she was involved in, on her Facebook page and through word of mouth.

“My part was advertising,” Arellano said. “It was times when I just got some friends and we were out giving fliers to students; we also went out and got the fliers stamped and we were taking them all over campus, putting them on bulletin boards.”

Meijdrich said Fund EIU evolved from a microphone for everyone to let out their frustrations into a source of public information, especially now that Eastern has got some funding to get through the summer but not enough to cause excitement.

“Through the rally and subsequent momentum for Fund EIU, the momentum that got people to go to the rally in Springfield a couple weeks after, Fund EIU became the funnel through which everyone could express their outrage,” Meijdrich said.

Cruikshank added that media presence surrounding the rally got people’s attention, as a representative from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office responded to it soon after.

“The whole mentality at the beginning was let’s actually do something now,” Cruikshank said. “It was difficult, but I think we did an excellent job of bringing momentum to the student body.”

Another faculty member to help with movement was English professor Michael Kuo, who said he got involved because his students were worried about Eastern’s future, and he wanted to help do something about it.

“I’ve been part of this university since 1967, as a faculty brat, an undergraduate, a grad student and an instructor,” Kuo said. “I deeply care about Eastern’s success.”

Claudia Janssen Danyi, a communication studies professor, used her expertise to assist in crafting Fund EIU’s message.

“We wanted to build sort of an umbrella in which everybody could be partisan for Eastern, no matter how they felt politically about Springfield,” she said.

She said the Fund EIU Facebook page had more than 1,000 followers within a few days, and the amount of support from alumni and others was overwhelming.

“We felt that we needed to make a statement, and it needed to be big so we could get recognized,” Claudia Janssen Danyi said. “Initially, we thought if we could get 300 people to come, that would be good, and we actually thought we could do it in front of the library where the clock tower was because that would make it look full.”

In handling much of Fund EIU’s social media presence, Claudia Janssen Danyi strategically promoted the rally and created a clear focus for the group of demanding a clean higher education appropriations bill.

“We thought if this was about a budget, then the university is a very small tree in a whole forest,” she said. “We very much tried to push for a clean bill not be hostile to anyone.”

Claudia Janssen Danyi said Fund EIU was careful not to promote any bills that “had poison pills in them” or that might not have a shot of going anywhere, and the group largely focused on getting people to call and write to legislators.

Paul Danyi said keeping the rally partisan for an issue rather than a political party took an enormous amount of energy.

Some criticized Fund EIU because the only legislator who spoke at the rally was a Democrat; however, Paul Danyi said the group intended to be fair.

“We reached out to a large number of politicians, including Gov. (Jim) Edgar, working on an incredibly short timeline, getting the whole thing put together in six and a half days,” Paul Danyi said. “There were even students we had lined up who didn’t have time to speak.”

Although months have passed since the initial rally and Eastern is still without a budget, Klipp said she is optimistic for students to take over the Fund EIU movement, potentially create a registered student organization and keep the conversations going.

“Students are the most influential voices we have,” she said. “They are a massive group of enlightened voices, and I hope they take it and run with it.”

 

Stephanie Markham can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]