Home » News, Print Issues, Volume 2, Issue 2 (March/April 2012) » D.C. college students demand education reform

D.C. college students demand education reform

(Photo by Coulter Loeb)

Last month, around two hundred student activists from colleges and universities around the Washington D.C. area descended on Sallie Mae and the Department of Education. On March 1, they voiced their concerns about exploding student debt, rising tuition costs, and the lack of direct stakeholder input in the education reform process. Responding to a call to action from Occupy Education, the students brought banners, posters, and chants to demand real change through a Students’ Declaration of Grievances.

(Photo by Coulter Loeb)

As similar actions were occurring throughout the country, the students in Washington D.C. were met by a heavy Homeland Security presence at the Department of Education, which kept the protest confined to the sidewalk.

A representative of the Secretary of Education, Tim Tutan, claimed to have carefully listened to everyone in the group who wished to express their concerns. Tutan was given a copy of the students’ grievances and the books Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire and A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn to present to the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.

(Photo by Coulter Loeb)

After students requested a timeline for when their demands would be met, Tutan promised to meet with the Secretary of Education personally and to provide an official response by March 9. The date passed, no response was received, and American University (AU) students were unable to contact Tutan. Student groups continue to reach out to the department for a response.

One common concern voiced by the students was the high cost of college. “I come from a poor family … a lot of young people go to the military just so they can go to college,” said Michael Patterson, who recently returned from serving in Iraq. “How many of our soldiers have died trying to go to college?”

“I am fortunate enough to have parents who can afford to pay for an education that will open up a world of opportunities for me,” said Ashley Weston, a student at American University. “A good education should not be out of reach for anyone. Education is a right, not a privilege, and I stand by that statement.”

One protester, a student at The George Washington University, said that she was $66,000 in debt and “was not even done yet.”

(Photo by Coulter Loeb)

Some university students involved have already begun to take a proactive approach to solving the problem of narrow educational choices. An alternative education working group, formed by Occupy AU, hopes to design free one-day weekend courses on subjects that are not covered in the university’s curriculum. Occupy AU hopes to open these events to all members of the Washington D.C. community to ensure there are no boundaries between universities and the communities that surround them.

Follow & contact the DC student Occupy movement on Twitter as @AUOccupy or @OccupyUMD.

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