Student Debt "Celebrated" Outside the Dept. of Education
BOSTON/Financial District - The Campaign for a Debt-Free Future hit out at the growing levels of student debt in a rally outside the US Department of Education (DOE) in Boston on Friday.
In a birthday-themed demonstration, around 50 participants ‘celebrated’ the second anniversary since student debt topped $1trn nationwide, and called on the DOE to alleviate the unsustainable situation faced by current and future students.
Gillian Mason, an organizer with the Massachusetts Jobs with Justice-run campaign, spoke out at the rally saying, “I grew up a block off the highway in suburban New jersey, a working class community, and they told me that if I worked hard enough, I would go to college … I could get out of the town where I lived, and I could end up living a better life.
“They told me that college loan debt was ‘good debt’ … because it’s going to make your life so much better in the end … it’s put me in default; at this point I’ve been engaged for four years, and I can’t get married, because I’d drive my partners credit rating down so far that he’ll never get an apartment; this is a terrible situation, and I’m really just the tip of the iceberg,” Mason continues.
She outlined the demands of the campaign, which include increasing funding for Pell Grants, the promotion of information relating to the availability of all debt-repayment options, and financial transparency in regard to banks, while also outlining the campaign’s view that education is a “right” and should be “free” for all.
“Education is a public good,” says Mason, “it is not a private enterprise where you should be trying to profit off of students.”
Members of a number of other groups were also present at the rally, including members of Boston University’s Student Labor Action Project, the Tufts Labor Coalition, the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENM), the Center for Education Policy at UMass Amherst (CEPA), and City Life/Vida Urbana.
Kimberly Selwitz, the president of PHENOM, spoke out at the rally saying, “I currently am facing about $80,000 in student debt” after attending public university at Framingham State. She says, “I didn’t really know what my options were before going into college, and so graduating – even with going to public university – it really affects my day to day decisions … it really impacts my present and also my future, and also the future of everybody here.
Taryn Fernacz, a director at CEPA, also spoke out at the rally saying, “if I do keep taking out the amount of loans that I have every year, I will be $80,000 in debt as well. “I think the FAFSA [Free Application for Federal Student Aid] expected us to pay 70 per cent of my tuition, but I think they forgot that I have a sister, and my parents need to pay for food and their mortgage, and so I didn’t get any aid except for federal loans,” she continues, “I am not happy to graduate with that much debt.”
According to Mason, “student-loan debt is something that affects us all, student loan debt is the next bubble that is going to crash our economy, student loan debt is stealing the future of young people … who are just trying to make it … trying to take advantage of those promises that we had, the promise that if you work hard you’re supposed to be able to get ahead in this country.
Following the birthday celebration, a short picket was held in front of the DOE’s office – also the location of the federal bankruptcy court – where the building’s entrance was cordoned off by Homeland Security officers, though the demonstration concluded without incident.
Open Media Boston contacted the DOE for a press statement in response to the demands made at the demonstration, but did not receive a response before the filing of this report.