Occupy the universities
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Students should be protesting higher education failures
At the beginning of the month, college students took part in the Occupy Wall Street protest. According to a report from Marketplace (American Public Media), it was about forgiving student loan debt. Gregory Warner of Marketplace says “students are taking on more of the riskiest kind of debt — these unregulated private student loans — where you have the least protection and pay the highest interest rates, up to 19 percent. So the argument you hear is, ‘You’ve bailed out Wall Street, what about us?’ Forgive student loans, you boost the economy because you put hundreds of dollars a month back in the pocket of middle-class families and of young people just as they’re entering the workforce.”
This is a valid argument for the reason college students have attached themselves to the Occupy Wall Street movement, but I think what needed to have caused a mass uproar was the rising cost of tuition and fees, not necessarily student loan debt.
Why is it that U.S. students are willing to protest one institution when they should have protested the institution that had failed them directly — the universities?
Back in 2010, two news outlets, Campus Progress and The American Prospect, had different reasons as to why U.S. students failed to organize and protest like their European counterparts.
Both articles, “Why Aren’t Students in the U.S. Protesting Tuition, Too?” (Campus Progress) and “Why Class Matters in Campus Activism” (American Prospects) state that, in the UK, college students took to the streets in large numbers. As many as 50,000 showed up to protest the tuition increases and budget cuts.
During the protest they were “confronting police, storming the Conservative Party headquarters, and even halting the motorcade of the British monarch Prince Charles.”
Back in November 2010, The Christian Science Monitor also reported about the tuition protests in Italy. According to the article, “Italian students stormed the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Rome’s Colosseum and blocked roads and railways.”
They even “marched in cities around Italy and occupied university buildings.” The reason why the protests in Europe were successful in getting attention was because the protesters were at locations that created inconvenience for those in power (i.e. a headquarters building, monuments, campuses).
The U.S. response to tuition increases was there, though it was in smaller droves. In a report from ABC 7 San Francisco, when tuition went up $822 at UC Berkley, only 80 people showed up. In March of last year, “a national day of college-student demonstrations against tuition hikes and program cuts brought out crowds, sometimes nearly 1,000 strong, on many campuses across the United States.”
In the American Prospects article, author Courtney E. Martin attributes the lack of response to socialization, saying “Many of us from middle- and upper-income backgrounds have been socialized to believe that it is our duty to make a difference, but undertake such efforts abroad -— where the ‘real’ poor people are.”
She also says that “it’s because privileged students at America’s colleges and universities generally don’t take the issue personally. Those who are politically active tend to set their sights on distant horizons — the poor in India, say, or the oppressed in Afghanistan. Without their privileged-kid allies, first-generation college students, immigrants and students dependent on financial aid are going to have a hard time creating the kind of buzz that Britain has just produced.”
I don’t fully agree with Martin’s theory about that being a possibility as to why this issue is not treated as a personal issue. I think that it is a personal issue to those who come from low-income families and those who are still considered “middle class.” I would not say that those who think of themselves as “privileged” are to blame for why any kind of mass movement is being suppressed. What I think needs to be blamed is our passivity towards this issue. Failing to increase the volume of our voice is contributing to the problem, not an overall lack of interest.
What is keeping any movement from gaining momentum is college students attaching themselves to Occupy Wall Street. It’s defeating the purpose of what we want to achieve as a group. We need to focus any and all energy on the facts that colleges have failed us in many ways.
College is supposed to be for our benefit — to help develop conscious, critical-thinking citizens. Now it focuses on producing what Campus Progress called “wage earners.” What is implied with that term is that this generation has become more about getting the skills for a specific type of job, making a nation of “obedient workers” — smart enough to do the jobs we competed and trained for, but still passive enough not to fully take action to create equality in all facets of this country.
I understand that at this present moment in time we have to compete on a global scale and adapt until the economic climate improves, but we can’t allow educational institutions to keep getting away with increasing tuition and fees that will only be affordable for a small percentage of this country’s population. It can never be how it was before, when colleges were almost entirely subsidized by the state. It is now on our shoulders to deal with.
We need to remove ourselves from Occupy Wall Street, especially now that there is more motivation to resolve this issue. I think that if we come together in the same fashion to protest our more pressing issues, we will be able to have our voice heard and let it be known that we will not stand for inequality or enormous amounts of debt.