Members of NYU’s Student Labor and Action Movement and the Queer Union held a demonstration to protest student debt in Washington Square Park on Oct. 8. The demonstrators urged passersby to “Come Out of the Debt Closet,” a message that was written on a closet door that the activists had brought along.
Using the hashtag #NotALoan, the students said they hoped to start a conversation about debt.
“We are trying to tell people, don’t just accept [their student debt],” CAS senior and Queer Union president Zev Alexander said.
Alexander said Queer Union participated in this event because student debt is a queer issue as LGBTQ people are at a higher risk for unemployment and financial risk.
The activists encouraged people to walk through the brightly painted door holding a small whiteboard where they had written their own amount of student debt. The amounts, which ranged from the low thousands to over $200,000, were subsequently written with chalk on the ground. At the end of the day, the amounts were tallied together.
Gallatin sophomore and Queer Union secretary Olivia Creamer estimated that last year’s total was $2.5 million.
“We’re inviting students and ex-students to come out with their student debt,” Creamer said. “We need to break the silence.”
After the event, a photo posted to the Queer Union’s Facebook page revealed this year’s total to be $4.25 million.
Several of the activists expressed anger over what they said was a rarely discussed university surplus of approximately $100 million annually, which they said is being used as part of NYU’s 2031 expansion plan instead of being used for financial aid.
“They’re not even being open about their business plan for 2031,” CAS freshman and Queer Union executive board member AJ Stone Jonathan said. “$100 million is around 25 percent of what they use for student financial aid in a year. We have to get rid of the stigma that comes with talking about it. We’re raised not to talk about money.”
NYU spokesman John Beckman refuted the Queer Union’s claims and said the university is transparent and making strides to improve financial aid.
“NYU absolutely has been forthcoming about its financing plans; the information is on the web for all to see,” Beckman said in an email. ”It is also the case that NYU continues to strive to improve financial aid to make NYU more affordable for more students and families.”
Beckman added that the financial planning for the Coles project is not being financed by additional tuition increases and that the university needs the class space it will provide.
Lucy Parks, a would-be NYU junior who sent a letter to NYU President John Sexton informing him that she was dropping out due to the cost of tuition, said she believes student support for the debt reform is growing. Parks, who continues to work with SLAM, said there is a deep divide between the NYU administration and the faculty and students.
“The administration is still very hostile,” Parks said. “But the faculty has always been receptive.”
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