How UMass students can answer Elizabeth Warren’s call to arms
Work study, financial aid, and federal loan forgiveness programs are all on the Trump chopping block this budget season
Though I won’t graduate for another year, I found myself in the stands at McGuirk Stadium a few weeks ago, surrounded by families sweating in the unexpectedly hot afternoon sun while Senator Elizabeth Warren delivered the UMass Amherst 2017 commencement address.
With the release of her new book and the cultivation of an endearingly straightforward social media presence, Elizabeth Warren is embarking on a political engagement crusade. Her address was at times unapologetically political (“we need a Justice Department, not an Obstruction of Justice Department” #burn), but above all it was an impassioned plea to the crowd, to get involved directly in the democracy of policy. “Policies matter enormously,” she said, urging everyone in the audience, regardless of party affiliation, to advocate for policies on an issue that they care about.
“It is no longer possible to assume that democracy will work if most Americans simply wait until election time to learn a little about the candidates, and otherwise ignore what’s going on,” Senator Warren warned.
For its part, UMass is not doing a great job of preparing to make advocacy an accessible and consistent part of its student’s grad lives. General Education requirements help to expand a student’s understanding of the world, but do little to foster their ability to take action and make their voice heard by policy makers. The university is institutionally ill-equipped to foster a large scale movement for student engagement in advocacy.
There is an impressive culture of campus activism at UMass Amherst, and now more than ever it is up to student organizing bodies to demonstrate what a politically active community looks like in an age of voter suppression and media manipulation.
It seems ludicrous to expect much from our campus when voter turnout in our student government elections is consistantly less than fifteen percent of the student body. This trend can only hope to exacerbate and predict a culture of disengagement when it comes to more high stakes political decisions that college graduates will be faced with in the future.
It is critical that the disinterest seemingly displayed in the UMass student population is not mistaken for apathy. On the contrary, students care deeply about many things, and so when they don’t feel empowered in their civic role on campus, it makes sense that they are unlikely to participate in its elections. And that’s where the work begins for those who have the tools and the desire to respond to Senator Warren’s call-to-action.
As students in higher education, we are uniquely positioned with the resources and the platform to lead the way not only in acts of resistance, but in providing an alternative to the current political status quo.
By acting as small parts of democratic vibrance, our campus community can shape the habits of younger millennials to favor participation and engagement. Student power needs to mobilize on the basis of shared experience and values in order to create broadband support for a proactive agenda.
It feels like a relevant data point to add that 63 percent of voters aged 18-29 did not vote for Donald Trump. The upshot is that college students don’t support the president, and the president doesn’t support college students right back.
President Trump and Secretary Devos’s budget threatens the ability of public universities to provide opportunities to young people across the country. Proposed cuts would slice funds allocated to work study in half, eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program entirely, and roll back student lone subsidies for low income families.
“The Trump-Devos budget would push opportunities out of the reach of millions of students across this country. Yea, it’s all about numbers, but it’s also about our values. It’s about what we care about in this country,” she says, looking straight into the camera.
During her speech at McGuirk, Senator Warren was speaking to graduating seniors when she said that “it’s a lot easier to engage on an issue if you take time to think through who you are.”
I think it’s time to start making participation in our political process a part of who we are.