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Canines protest against student debt

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The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) has a new strategy in the battle against student debt: the annual Day of Action march is out, and dogs are in.

Students and a litter of pups took to the streets to raise awareness for student debt in the Walk for Affordable Education at Dal on Feb. 5.

Canines and their owners gathered for a common cause: to call on the provincial government to implement policies that will reduce student debt. For graduates of Nova Scotia universities, that debt has climbed to about $35,000 on average.

The organizers estimate that with $25 million, Nova Scotia could turn 100 per cent of the provincial portion of student loans into up-front, needs-based grants.

Those who joined the event’s Facebook’s page, “Puppies for $25 Million! – Dog Walk for Affordable Education!” may have noticed the DSU changed the event’s name late Monday evening, removing the 25 that had originally preceded the word puppies.

In the end, only 11 pooches turned out to the walk.

“There were different numbers at different times—it was really cold,” says Aaron Beale, VP (academic and external) of the DSU, of the puppy deficit.

The crowd of university students and their pups gathered outside the Student Union Building (SUB) as Beale, standing on the exterior façade of the university’s concrete centerpiece, hoisted an enormous white banner bearing a hand-drawn 25.

Some sported white bandanas on which the same number was written in felt-tipped marker, while others, undoubtedly the luckier of the lot, wore coats.

“The state of education in Nova Scotia is definitely a sad story,” says Rebecca Eldridge, a second-year student, who helped with the planning of the protest. “There are a lot of people who want to go to university but can’t because they can’t afford it.”

“What we’re calling for is more needs-based grants,” says John Hutton, a fourth-year student and one of the event’s organizers.

Hutton and the other student organizers are seeking to eliminate the province’s Graduate Retention Rebate and the student loan debt cap.

“We think that these are well-intentioned policies, but [they] don’t help students when they need it most, which is when they’re in their classes,” says Hutton.

He says their plan will not pose any additional costs to the province.

“If you simply just move money around within the Department of Education, you can make a serious impact on students.”

The protestors set out from the SUB to Quinpool Road. The frigid temperature, which dipped well into the negatives, sent many home or back to the university’s campus, their dogs in tow.

The rest of the protesters arrived at the office of Howard Epstein, the MLA for Halifax Chebucto, who was not in.

Hutton says the Dal community can expect a series of similar events in coming weeks. Together they will replace the annual Day of Action.

“We’re just doing fun things,” says Beale, adding that there might be a larger protest in March.

While this year’s events are smaller and more numerous, Hutton says their objective remains the same: to lower student debt.

“No one should be denied education simply because they can’t afford it.”






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