Students demonstrate against debt in Washington Square ParkPosted on October 4, 2013 | by Chandler West, Andrew Spohn, and Patrick Anker
A pink door displaying the words “Come out of the [debt] closet” stood near the Washington Square Arch.
Passers-by were asked to write down the costs of their student loans on a dry-erase board, then to walk through the door to symbolize coming out of the closet about their debt.
Queer Union at NYU organized the demonstration in partnership with the Student & Labor Action Movement, the International Socialist Organization at NYU, NYU Disorientation and NYC Student Bloc, which helped promote the Oct. 3 event.
“Debt isn’t something we should live with and accept,” said CAS senior Doug Keeler, who is the president of the Queer Union. “Sometimes we need to work to change the institution.”
Owen Meehan, a member of the International Socialist Organization at NYU and a sophomore at Hunter College, discussed how the door was used in relation to a stigmatization in student debt that queer people face.
“Doug Keeler wrote an article called ‘NYU Hates Poor Queers,’” Meehan said. “[Debt is] not treated as a systemic problem but [as] an individualized problem. So by having people ‘come out’ about student debt, you’re breaking the stigma around student debt.”
On the ground near the door, the words “Debt is nothing to be ashamed of” were written in chalk along with a tally of the total amount of debt participants faced. By the end of the protest, which lasted from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., more than 40 people came out about their debt, and the total debt tally was over $2.5 million.
“Queer students tend to face more job discrimination, and receive less support from their families,” Keeler said. “This makes paying off debt even harder. None of us [profess] to know everything about debt. We’re here to come out about our own personal experiences with debt and financing our education.”
In an email from the same date, NYU President John Sexton provided more information about the Momentum Campaign, a six-year initiative to raise funds for financial aid.
“The costs our students and families take on is always at the forefront of our thoughts; it drives our efforts on fundraising and operational savings,” NYU spokesperson John Beckman said. “The Momentum Campaign is a clear indication that improving scholarship aid is our number one fundraising target.”
Beckman said NYU is a tuition-dependent university, and has a smaller per-student endowment, which creates difficulties in providing full financial assistance.
“We wish NYU’s … financial resources allowed us to match the generous financial aid of some peer institutions,” Beckman said. “But, because they are not, our admissions and financial aid officers are very candid, as they speak with candidates for admission about the fact that college is an investment, and it is a four-year investment. It is not a matter of simply cobbling together financing to make the first year work.”
CAS junior and Queer Union treasurer Zev Alexander also attended the protest.
“I think that it’s really important as a group that’s invested in radical queer work that we think about how we can talk about things like economic oppression and student debt and international politics and all these things that people might think aren’t ‘queer,’” Alexander said. “There are really important ways that queerness intersects with student debt and especially at NYU.”
Chandler West, Andrew Spohn and Patrick Anker are contributing writers. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*A previous version of this article incorrectly suggested that Zev Alexander said he was working to improve NYU because of a love of the university, which was in fact a sentiment said by president of the Queer Union, Doug Keeler. WSN regrets this error.