The voices of students do not get heard enough. Most of the stories you hear about in the media are by politicians, big corporations, and the conglomerate news channels are the ones that control what we see and hear about the student debt crisis. There have been activist movements by students and people who want to fight for the cause, but really nothing has been done. With this independent study one of the main tasks is to ask students around the UMass campus about how they feel when it comes to student debt. To do this we plan to ask them to tell their stories through signage, testimonies, and mainly participation. What I mean by participation is standing up for their own right for education at an affordable price.
To make students more aware I have been maintaining a Facebook page and updating it with events, examples of signage, facts about student debt, and articles with information students can find useful and helpful. I have even asks fellow students and students who have graduated to share their stories. I put together a series of questions and sent it out to a bunch of people and I was very pleased with the amount willing to participate and give me answers to the questions. One student Chris, who plans to graduate this year shared his story even though he himself does not have any student debt but when asked how he felt about the 1 trillion student debt crisis this is what he had to say, “I think that some of it should be alleviated because if college graduates have more money to spend on other things, the economy might improve. I think there need to be more regulations about how much college can cost and how much debt someone can be in because in our society, a bachelor’s degree is now as important, if not more important, than a high school diploma.” I asked another student Abby who graduated last year about being able to afford her loan payments and she stated, “I wasn’t able to find a job until 5 months after school. In the meantime I waitressed but with other expenses it was really hard to save. Luckily right before my payments started I was able to find a job as an office administrator. Wasn’t my first choice, but it allows me to afford my payments for school. I really don’t have spending money for other things but I don’t want to default on my loans.” Shaun graduated in 2002 and was able to share this piece of advice, “The biggest piece of advice that I have is this: What you do now will affect you for the rest of your life. Time goes by fast so watch how you spend your money and make sure you try as hard as you can in college so you can get a good job when you get out.” It was very interesting hearing what people had to say and it was a really good source of insight.
Besides asking questions we have been asking students how they feel through drawings and what we call signage. We eventually want to collect enough to create a debt fence on campus allowing students to share this artwork. The debt fence was also done in our class and it created some attention so we are hoping this time it will too. Some ways we have been collecting signage is from doing it ourselves, asking our friends, and even asking our professors is we can take class time to have students draw and share pictures. The professors on campus have been very supportive and even want to help join the cause. Another way we plan to collect signage is through the campus center tabling, allowing students passing by to create a picture telling their story. Also we have posted a flyer around campus informing students about our cause and hoping they get involved and draw signage on their own. So far it has been pretty successful and I plan on collecting more signage and testimonies to share on the debt fence.