EASTERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY — Sunday, people gathered to support the struggling school. A huge crowd swarmed campus. Without funding from the state, the university’s had to cut programs and lay off staff.
Now, students and the community are saying “thanks” for everything they’ve done. Organizers say it has nothing to do with politics. The idea is to raise spirits on campus.
People of all ages showed up at the building known as Old Main, hoping to boost morale at the school many say is the heart of the community.
People who’ve lived here at some point, might say something like this: “EIU is Charleston and Charleston is EIU.”
You’d think it was a slogan, but these people say it’s just the way it is. Jana Johnson says it’s a good time to let the school know how they feel.
“Let’s surround this like we’re getting the castle a big hug.”
It’s something she thought of some time after hearing about the university’s cutbacks. Nearly 1,000 people showed up wearing blue-and-white and wrapping themselves around Old Main.
“I grew up in the community. I met my fiance here. You know, I found my passion here and all these wonderful people and teachers and I just really want to come out and show my support.”
Students say it’s hard to imagine what their lives would be like without it.
“This place has shaped me to be who I am. Where I’m supposed to be is all because of EIU. It’s really hard to imagine.”
For Ben Rienbolt, the phrase has two meanings. He grew up in Charleston, went to EIU, but is now getting laid off from there.
“Both my wife and I work on campus and we both are losing our jobs. It’s a different experience. I’ve never been laid off before.”
He might be new to the experience, but Rienbolt says he wasn’t totally surprised when he got the news and he doesn’t hold it against the university.
“It’s not our fault. It’s not the people in this community’s fault that we haven’t reached an agreement. Everybody’s doing what they can. But, I mean, Eastern is always going to hold a place in my heart, either way, whether I stay here or go someplace else.”
He and others gathered at Old Main to say they hate to see the school in such bad shape and, if nothing else, hope everyone on campus will know the community’s got their back.
“Let’s not be fearful. We’re all in this together and it’ll all work out. We’ll get through it!”
In addition to signs and banners, people also brought heart-shaped notes with words of encouragement for the school. Those will be delivered to Old Main Monday.
Workers at Eastern and other public universities will lose their jobs next month if the state doesn’t pass a budget Layoffs at Eastern say layoffs will happen March 12. The university is letting 177 workers go.
The state owes EIU about $50 million.