by Casey Luongo, Student Organizer, University of Pittsburgh
If you ever feel overwhelmed by all the talk and pressure to “move money,” breathe easy. Take a step to the left or to the right. Congratulations, you’ve just moved it.
Today, as students, we grow up in a relentless paradox. Going to college is barely an option after high school. Society places increasing demand on acquiring a college degree. Simultaneously, the cost of attendance increases. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to afford a vital demand. Moreover, with the unemployment rate for 20-24 year olds at 14 percent, it’s hard to justify college as a stable investment in our future. Nonetheless, most of us find ways through the financial obstacles. And when we do, colleges and universities are there to welcome us, and our scrounged up tuition fees, with smiling wallets. On the first day of school, we get bombarded with “free” stuff that buys our loyalty and sells a sense of community. This warm welcome stems from the fact that colleges and universities need us to want them. They need us, but, they don’t specifically need you, and they don’t specifically need me. They just need students, peoples able to pay the price tag and wear their advertisements.
If you feel like money, take a step back.
Do you remember drawing up a pro and con chart for big and small schools when deciding where to invest in your future? Now that you’ve made a decision, does the size of your institution really contribute to your self-worth outside of the classroom?
Mine doesn’t. A few weeks ago, my peers went to an event where the governor would be addressing budget cuts. They were going to stop the defunding of education, specifically the defunding of our university. My peers were the leading voice in the room, a voice the administration supported. However, days later, when passing out literature on the cuts, these same peers were forced off to stop. The executive vice chancellor said they had no business is trying to stop budget cuts, because, “Students are not the University.”
What? If you feel like money, take a step back.
It is enraging to hear that students are not the university. It difficult to have a top administrator confirm the hunch of students as dollar signs. In my work with the endowment, I have been walking a fine line with the administration. I have struggled with the decision to run a positive or negative campaign to encourage my school to invest in its community. I chose a positive campaign out of respect for the administrator I was developing a relationship with. He genuinely seemed interested in my work, and as the vice chancellor for community initiatives, I thought he would take advantage of a new avenue to expand his work. Well, I overlooked that administrators have a job that is not revealed in their description. Administrators have a job to master the art of empowering students to do nothing. Administrations have established structures and channels to create a sense of student participation and representation, such as student government. However, in reality, this is more of a charismatic defense shield than a structure for dialogue and accountability. When we seek accountability outside of these channels, administrators make sure a series of good faith meetings take place before an actual action can occur. If and when the administration acts upon a student initiative, the result is usually one that lacks power.
As students involved in this work, we go to our administration with novel ideas on how to change an unsustainable status quo. We are spending thousands of dollars to attend universities to legitimize our ideas for a better future. However, the institutions collecting our money are keeping us from the better world we are capable of creating. I think in order to be most successful with our campaigns and to ensure a better a future, we must organize around an additional SRI avenue. When we are working for a specific issue on campus, we must also work for ourselves, the student body. We must get the university to responsibly and respectfully invest in student voice. Many college students don’t know what an endowment is or how they have a stake in it. Likewise, many students go through their college experience without ever engaging with administrators and the structures of their university. Most students do not realize that they are belittled by the institution that is supposed to build them up. I encourage all of us organizers to organize for a socially responsible administrator-student relationship.
If you feel like money, more than tuition, take a step forward.
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