On March 4 at noon, the New York Students Rising (NYSR) activism organization and about 100 other SUNY New Paltz students walked out of their classes to stand in solidarity with 20 other SUNY campuses protesting the five years of tuition increases under the SUNY 2020 Plan. This plan has caused tuition to rise $300 per year.
After rushing the halls of the Humanities Building, participants gathered directly outside and recited chants in demonstration of their frustration. “Students united we will never be defeated,” “raise hell, not tuition,” and “fight, fight, fight, fight, education is a right,” are only three of the many shouts that filled the academic concourse.
“Are you angry? I wanna hear you if you are angry!” exclaimed Kelsey Ryan, fourth-year international relations major at SUNY New Paltz and member of NYSR.
Students stood with black balloons with paper chains attached to them tied to their ankles to represent the “ball and chain” that is living with student debt. One student dressed up in a black and white stripped prisoners uniform to emphasize the burden of owing thousands of dollars to banks as a young adult.
“This is a statewide effort and it is huge,” Ryan said. “United we are super powerful and I think people are finally starting to wake up and see that they can make a difference if they get involved.”
Ryan shared that she is $20,000 in debt from student loans, and her mother is still $10,000 in student loans from when she attended college. Nicole Striffolino, a fourth-year graphic design major at SUNY New Paltz and member of NYSR said that she will be $26,000 in debt by the time she graduates. Although a shocking number, this is the average national debt for students currently.
“Yeah, I left my class to come to this, but here I’m taking into consideration what is important for my future,” said Robert Sanchez, a third-year at SUNY New Paltz with a large amount of student debt. “This is how protests make changes, with all these people and organization.”
Joe Barbarito, an active member of the New Paltz community stood wearing a “V for Vendetta” mask with a makeshift pizza box sign that read “debt is now 1.3 trillion.” Although long removed from his college years without any debt of his own, Barbarito said that his daughter has just started college and will be deeply in debt by the time she graduates.
“This is going to be the cause of the next big crash for our economy, banks can’t keep paying out,” Barbarito said. “What will the job market be for you kids?”
Brandon Missig, a fourth-year politial science major and NYSR member, Ryan and Striffolino led the chants until eventually grabbing the megaphone and taking turns urging students to take control and action of what is happening in Albany. Holding a large cut-out of Cuomo’s head, the three activists explained that he is not helping the situation.
This summer, the State legislature passed the Maintenance of Effort bill, of which would guarantee government funding for future costs at CUNY and SUNY for necessities such as utilities on campuses. According to Ryan, Striffolino and Missig, Cuomo has not yet signed this bill into effect, and may not be planning to do so.
“This institution would not exist without us paying for it,” Ryan said. “So let’s show them what it would be like without us. Let’s get the government to reinvest in our education!”
Ryan urged all the students to join in marching through the town in order to leave the concourse empty as a symbol of the importance of students at an educational institution.
Protestors then began walking into town while still chanting various statements of solidarity, attracting the attention of the people of New Paltz, including the police. The protest group then continued up to South Oakwood St. before turning back and returning to campus.
According to a NYSR press release, the group will be implementing their “20 Days of Noise” series of direct actions aimed at targeting the state legislature and Gov. Cuomo. This series will ask students who are participating to take part in a different action each school day in March to show their activism.
“It is unacceptable that despite budget deficits the executive staff of New York’s public higher education institutions continue to receive annual salary raises,” Missig said in the press release. “How can SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher defend ‘irrational tuition,’ when SUNY officials make over $500,000 between their salary and benefits?”