“In a vicious cycle, student debt has a subduing effect on activism, and political passivity makes it more likely that students will accept such debt as a natural part of life.” (Bruce E. Levine, 8 Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back)
Most of us have accepted crippling amount of college debt as a packaged deal with our cap and gown. But while college tuitions sky rocket next to household incomes that have leveled off, it becomes increasingly harder to see what we have been told is inevitable. Once something is normalized and institutionalized it becomes almost invisible to those submerged in it. And that’s what I want to do with this independent study—through signage, student discussions, and a debt wall I want to not only raise awareness but shake students, faculty, and anyone who will listen free of the debt spell crippling our futures.
This semester I will continue to investigate signage but with a new goal: to open it up to others and make it more of a communal task. Not only will the act of “branding” or group and establishing an on-campus presence via signage help to educate but the physical act and artistic process is a form of education. I believe that text and images and the associations our minds make between visual and text information is a learning process in and of itself so that we might educate ourselves as we educate others.
In addition to this I plan on working closely with Erika, Gemma, Maggie, and Rebecca in order to organize the debt fence, spread awareness, and engage those on campus. One way we can generate content and awareness of the debt fence would be a student dialogue, which I am putting into works with Lynn Phillips of the communication department. The overall time-line and production schedule for the above goals are as follows:
- Signage– 1-3 signs developed each week, after group approval as many as can be hung up around campus will be hung up. I think group feedback, critique, and discussion around the signs is important so that we are all involved in every aspect of the group’s activities, despite individual foci.
- Student Discussion– Ideally this will happen a few days shy of the Debt Fence so that we can get people talking about it and have a concrete second event close to the first to inspire people to go to. Perhaps Tuesday or Wednesday before the Debt Fence (26th and 27th).
- Debt Fence– Set to happen March 30th, or that weekend, I will organize with Erika, Gemma, Maggi, and Rebecca to plan a course of action. I think it would be a good idea to take the first half of class to catch up with everyone and then the second half to split into smaller groups to organize projects.
- Blog Posts– These will be published every two weeks in order to update each other on what we are working on so that we free up time to discuss other things in person on Tuesdays during the meeting.
Overall the hope is that I learn through trial and era and through the knowledge and brilliance of my peers how to community organize and how to better use my art to aid in movements, awareness, and local efforts. The larger picture however is to somehow break the debt spell and get people talking in order to inspire change—either in the form of calling Elizabeth Warren to address the issue or calling for a more concrete request here at Umass, whether it be a 10 year plan to freeze tuition (the average amount of time it is said it will take us to pay off our loans) and maybe even look into lowering tuition or pressuring the University to find more grant-based aid.