Calls for resignations, tuition refunds at UMass Dartmouth rally for the Star Store

Oct 8, 2023

“Do your job! Do your job! Do your job!” chanted a crowd of students, staff and community members on UMass Dartmouth’s main campus Oct. 6, protesting the closing of the historic Star Store campus in downtown New Bedford.

While chanting, the crowd faced the Foster Administration building, asking university leadership to take responsibility for failing to secure the building for students. But protesters are not seeking an apology: some called for the resignation of community leaders, while others stated the need for formal investigations into the circumstances of the Star Store’s closing.

The rally received support in the form of letters from New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell and Sen. Mark Montigny, both of whom called for tuition refunds for students. 

“I’m still paying the same amount of tuition, and I’m not even getting the facility, space and experience that I was promised in the first place,” said Lily McGuirk, a senior undergraduate painting major. “What am I paying for?”

McGuirk created the petition to “Save the Star Store,” which has now garnered over 5,000 signatures. 

“It’s nothing new that the arts are being neglected, but I naively thought that being at a school with such a strong art program meant that we would be treated with just as much respect as any of the colleges at the university,” McGuirk said.

In early August, the College of Visual and Performing Arts announced it would be leaving its historic Star Store location in downtown New Bedford due to a lack of state funding for the facility. The decision prompted outcry from students and alumni, who were confused about where all of the work will go.

Lisa Lemieux, president of the Greater Southeastern Massachusetts Central Labor Council, read a letter from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO president. The letter called for an oversight committee and investigation into the circumstances of the Star Store loss. 

The loss of the facility continues to hurt students, who not only no longer have access to New Bedford’s community, but in some cases have no functional space to do the work they came to the university for. 

One graduate ceramics student, Ruth Douzinas, rented out her own studio space to start getting work done and clay fired. She said the administration has sent “mixed messages” on whether the rental cost will be reimbursed. 

“It’s unclear what the path toward graduation is,” said Douzinas, who expected to graduate in the spring. 

The much-maligned studio space planned for the former Bed, Bath and Beyond in Dartmouth Towne Center still is not functional, Douzinas said, and is weeks away from being usable at all. Electrical outlets are not easily accessible in the building, so outlets need to be hung from the ceiling for students to plug in their machines. 

Friday’s rally reaffirmed that students, staff and community members will continue to seek action from the administration and state government. 

Nicholas Gula, president of the American Federation of Teachers Maintainers Local 6350, said that he’s spoken with the state auditor, Diana DiZoglio, and expects her to audit the university over the loss of the Star Store. 

Last week, two of the most vocal student organizers, ceramics students Fallon Navarro and Jillian McEvoy, talked to Governor Maura Healey on her monthly Boston Public Radio appearance. Healey promised a meeting with Chancellor Mark Fuller. 

While initial reports suggested that most CVPA studio space would head to the former Bed, Bath and Beyond space, students are increasingly fragmented. Two first-year Fibers students, who requested not to be named for fear of their scholarships being affected, said their first semester classes have been distributed throughout the main UMass Dartmouth campus, in “random spaces,” wherever classrooms are available. 

They do not have access at all to their looms that they need to work on large fiber projects, and now a month of their first semester is already gone — without any solution in sight.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article said that Navarro and McEvoy appeared on Radio Boston. In actuality, the show was Boston Public Radio from GBH.