A call for a student union to curb tuition

by Willie Burnley Jr. / Beacon Correspondent • September 30, 2015

Throughout the year, I often worry that I will be forced to leave Emerson because I can no longer afford it. It unsettles my mind and my work, filling me with disquieting notions that the life I’ve built here will suddenly crumble. This feeling is only exacerbated by the fact that I’ve watched it happen to so many students around me.

Indeed, we see it every year: complaints about rising tuition on social media, anger at abysmal financial aid, misfortunate friends sharing GoFundMe pages, and less fortunate ones saying goodbye in long Facebook posts. Too often these groans for change go unanswered, and too often our grievances are cloaked in silence under the cover of this institution. Too often our discontent is smothered under cordiality or the fear that we are powerless. No more. With the specter of tuition hikes looming once again, it is our duty to act immediately.

Emerson community, I’ll let you in on a little secret: You and I are going to have our own organized insurrection. We have to demand that the administration institute a two-year tuition freeze and authorize a student-administrator task force to create a plan to reduce the burden. We will fight not only for ourselves, but also for the next generation. We will do this by creating an unsanctioned, non-hierarchical, student union that will lead a campaign of collective disobedience.

Some will say that this problem isn’t unique to Emerson. It isn’t. Just as issues of racism here reflect our larger nation, the economic tyranny heaped onto students at Emerson—where we pay up to $60,000 a year—is a microcosm of economic injustice throughout our society. We live in a time when there’s over $1.1 trillion in student loan debt, immense income inequality, and workers in the streets clamoring for a living wage. Even as some rising political figures urge us to confront the economic disparities plaguing our society, complacency, capitalism, and enforced-authority have, as described by the Communist Manifesto, "entered into a holy alliance” to silence their reasoning.

Some will say that we should deal with the administration gently, not make too much noise, and look at the progress that has been made on several fronts to address student issues in the past. However, the student body should not be mollified.

Let it be clear that we do not want the crumbs of change—we want the sweet cake of justice. Let no one fool you. What we want cannot be asked for, it must be demanded.

By undertaking this enterprise, we take part in the reconstruction of civilization’s original technology: that great human counterbalance known as mass mobilization. Described precisely, it is the central force of history, one we already have the tools to access.

Utilizing the loose-association of organizations modeled by CLAW (Coalition of Lions in Action with Workers), which helped unionize Emerson’s Sodexo workers, the Student Union can draw in the presidents and members of organizations, as well as students unaffiliated, to unite in support of our common cause. From there, we can blast major donors, such as Kevin Bright, Leo Hindery, and Patti Wheeler Hindery, with our stories, demands, and require that they put pressure on the administration to end this yearly price gouging. If that fails, we will march, we will chant, we will post, and we will tweet in a massive walkout that will use the collective media expertise we’ve spent millions acquiring to elicit the outcome we seek.

If anything I’ve said smells of conspiracy, let me correct that now. This isn’t conspiracy, it’s declaration; this isn’t complacency, it’s reclamation. We’re taking back our power from that little voice in our heads that says we can’t do anything to change our lot in life.

We fight for that power in the traditions of resistances old and new. We’ll continue the tradition of students of color standing up and speaking out, especially in regards to how the system repeatedly and disproportionately fails us. We’ll move with the students who came before us in mind, students who were gay, bi-, trans, and more, who fought to have their voices heard so that the students after them would too. We’ll organize like the Sodexo workers did for respect, reasonableness, and collective bargaining. Like them, we will demand fairness.

In that spirit, we will do this without throwing our comrades under the bus. We will refuse to sacrifice staff, faculty, financial aid, Securitas, food or maintenance workers in our pursuit. To do so would set a precedent of divisiveness and exclusion while this crisis mounts.

We will model maladjustment to injustice. And we’ll do so with the knowledge that, if we fail, that specter won’t just haunt our minds. It will steal away our friends and rob them of the education and futures that they’ve staked so much on.