While Sharon Chen, now a Stern senior, was sitting in a classroom at NYU’s London campus in 2010, British university students took to the streets to protest the government’s increase of maximum university tuition to 9,000 pounds. Thinking that British students did not have much to complain about, given high tuition costs at American universities, Chen was startled when her professor told her that the riots outside their classroom were aimed at preventing students at British universities from dealing with a debt crisis similar to the one American students face.
“That really struck a chord with me,” Chen said. “It made me question the status quo.”
Hoping to raise awareness about the student debt crisis, Chen decided to spearhead the NYU chapter of Up to Us, a student-led initiative that aims to inform students about the issue of student debt. The Clinton Global Initiative University partnered with Net Impact and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation to launch Up to Us this year as an opportunity for students to educate their peers through campus events. The NYU chapter will compete against nine other universities, including Georgetown University and Brown University, for a top prize of $10,000, which will be awarded to the school that puts forward the most effective campaign. Chelsea Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos will serve as judges.
Today, a group of 25 Stern students will officially launch their campaign to raise student awareness at NYU. The first event of the semester will be a lecture presented by Jonathan Haidt, the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership in the Leonard N. Stern School of Business on Feb. 21. Haidt will address the politics behind the federal debt reduction debates. Other events for the spring semester will include a debate between NYU College Democrats vice president Julien Tunney and NYU College Republicans member Mike Heckmann, a “Jeopardy!” debt and politics-related game show and a YouTube video series featuring on-the-street interviews about the national debt.
Chen believes that, by highlighting the fact that prolonged federal debt puts education programs that help pay for college tuition at risk, Up to Us will give students a voice in a matter of governmental concern.
“The student body is the outlet to push for change because the negative repercussions of kicking the can down the road fall disproportionately on our generation,” Chen said.
According to a survey conducted by Generation Opportunity, a non-partisan organization that aims to educate young Americans on the economic crisis, current students with loans will face repercussions when they start families, buy houses and plan for retirement down the road.
“It will be a lot harder to go about these activities if interest and tax rates are higher and the United States’ lenders are pressuring the government to cut spending and raise taxes,” Chen said.
“If our events cause one student to think about the national debt and how large of a problem it is, I consider that a success,” said Stern freshman Luke Shearin, a founding member of NYU’s Up to Us campaign. “It isn’t our job to say what should be done about the national debt. We are simply trying to show that it is an issue, and give students the resources to draw their own conclusions from there.”
Stern freshman Rob Paul is concerned about the debt crisis, but he has doubts about the Up to Us campaign as a vehicle to promote change.
“I think that [the Up to Us events] will be very informative, but I don’t know how helpful educating such a small portion of the working and voting population will be,” Paul said.
Students are encouraged to participate in the campaign and the group’s website features a Share Your Story forum where students can enlighten others with their personal hopes for their tax dollars in the future.
The winning university will be announced in April and will be recognized by former President Clinton at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative University.
Correction: In a previous version of the article “Stern students launch campaign to tackle debt crisis,” WSN inaccurately reported that Andrew Slade was the vice president of the NYU College Democrats. In fact, Julien Tunney is the vice president. Slade is the president of the National College Democrats.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan. 28 print edition. Helen Holmes is deputy features editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.