I have a lot of student debt: $35,904 to be exact.
That’s about $10,000-$14,000 a year depending on how much I work during my “pre-study period.” Because I’m the first person in my family to go to university, my parents call me their “shining light of hope.” I don’t know how I’m supposed to be prophetic when I feel guilty, worried and doubtful due to the amount of money I owe.
In comes All Out: a different “shining light of hope” for students sitting on negative bank balances. It took place on Nov. 2, with students across Canada marching in protest to lower – or even eliminate – student tuition fees. I marched on Nov. 2.
After a few hours of marching, shouting and waving around signs (mine was homemade with my total debt scribbled along the backside of an old tattered Scott Pilgrim movie poster), the protest disbanded with many of its participants going to an after party. But for the students swimming in debt, there’s no reason to party.
I find it hard not to have conflicting opinions about the event. On one hand, this is an issue where all students, university faculty and the public are welcome to share their voices. I love hearing other people’s opinions, and regardless if the issue affects them or not, they are entitled to their say.
On the other hand, the protest was routine, featuring similar signs seen every year held up by a majority of people who only know the statistics shared with them – not the reality.
Every year All Out is organized – thank you to the organizers by the way, it can’t be easy – and it starts a dialogue. Unfortunately, it’s the same dialogue year after year. The police are accommodating by stopping traffic and keeping the public safe, the legislature is aware of the protest weeks in advance and the universities excuse students from class so they can attend.
There needs to be a change – a radical change – in how we, the people, tackle student debt. Not just during All Out, but frequently, strategically and courageously. This way, all Canadians who want, and deserve, post-secondary education have the opportunity made available to them. Not just for people like me, who leave university with a degree and $40,000 in debt, but for the people who don’t get the opportunity for post-secondary education at all. Those who live in poverty but still have a craving for knowledge.
Because who knows, those people may be the ones to cure a disease, open your favourite business, start a revolutionary website, deliver your first-born or study our changing climate.
Whether the answer is more grants and fewer loans, lowering tuition fees or eliminating them, I don’t have a solution. I also don’t have the answer to how we can achieve these goals. But what I will say is that if we want to see an end to outrageous student debt, we need to do more than shout on the streets for one day before abandoning our signs on the legislature building’s fence, where they in no doubt will be thrown away by the same people causing fees in the first place.