Rebecca Harrelson is a first-generation college student and a senior at UNC-Greensboro, where she studies Sociology and English. Rebecca, who plans to graduate in May 2016, already has $32,869 in student debt, and this year took out private loans in addition to government loans in order to cover school costs. In the following interview, which was conducted by Tristan Munchel and has been condensed and edited, Rebecca shares the story of how she pays for college and why she plans to walk out on October 24.
TM: Why did you come to UNCG?
RH: It was a good fit: it’s a pretty campus. It’s small enough for me. I like the fact that it’s more diverse than most colleges. At the time when I came into school I wanted to be an English teacher and then that changed to sociology and English, and they had everything I wanted.
When you were applying to schools, how much was paying for school a factor you considered?
I knew going into college that my parents weren’t going to be able to give me any money. They were able to pay for books and things like that for a few semesters, but I pretty much knew that paying for college I was going to be all on my own, so looking into schools I really had no grasp of money yet. Obviously I wasn’t able to go to Carolina because it was very expensive, or Duke.
How are you paying for school?
Well, which year? All of the years have been with financial aid. My parents got divorced my sophomore year, which made paying for school 50 times more difficult. When you have parents that are divorcing you have to pick one of your parents, have them fill out their half of the FAFSA after you fill out your half, and you have to hope they don’t make enough money that you won’t get aid. This year FAFSA said my parents were expected to give me $7000. My parents gave me $0, so this was the first year I had to get bank loans to pay to go to school.
Financial aid just wouldn’t offer me enough. The financial aid office told me, “This is all we can do for you. We see that it’s not enough, so here are your options: you can either go for a private loan, or some other kind of loan, or look for grants,” but at this point it was time for school to start and I didn’t want my classes to be dropped, so I got two loans from Wells Fargo.
The first loan I was told was the right amount and that it would cover everything, and after about a month of going back and forth, getting all this paperwork, calling people, I got $8,500. The second loan was because a crazy fee came up that I thought was already factored into my financial aid but it turns out wasn’t, and that was another $1,200 for the school year.
I also had to get a co-signer for my Wells Fargo loans which I did not like, because I did not want to have my dad on any of the information, but because I’m a college student and I don’t have any credit, it’s mandatory. To be able to go to school I had to drag him into this pit with me.
When you enrolled in school were you thinking about the fact you were going to have to pay for it later?
Realistically, no. I have a mindset while I’m in college, which is probably not a very responsible mindset, that if I have the money to pay for school now, and if I have the ability to get all the things I need right now for college then I will deal with the cost when I have to deal with it. I hope that my education, and the people I meet, and the connections I make and the internships I have will set me up for a career that allows me to pay my loans back. But if I were someone who just went to college and didn’t make those connections, and I graduated with just a piece of paper, what am I going to do, throw it at people?
How are you planning on staying afloat when you leave school?
I really don’t know, because what I want to do—international journalism—doesn’t pay that much money in the beginning. In order to do what I want I have to work my way up from much smaller jobs. After college if I don’t have anything tying me to Greensboro, my plan is to do the Peace Corps for two years. I know that that docks some of your debt… I have little faith that I will easily be able to pay this back. It will be very difficult, and it will take a very long time, and it will have to be in small doses.
Why do you think it’s important for students to walk out on October 24?
Because people don’t take college students seriously. We aren’t adults, but we’re not children either, and sometimes you have to do something very visual, very in-your-face to get people to listen, and to get the chancellor to listen, and to get other officials in North Carolina to listen. For example, all of the teachers calling out of work in Denver [this week]. If we could get teachers to do that, that would be amazing.
The Pentagon’s 1033 program, which allows the Defense Department to unload its excess military equipment onto local police forces, has quietly overflowed onto college campuses. According to documents obtained by the website Muckrock, more than 100 campus police forces have received military materials from the Pentagon. Schools that participate in the program range from liberal arts to community colleges to the entire University of Texas system.
A few weeks ago, activist and journalist Mariame Kaba asked on Twitter: “How can we build a movement to divest from police? Is there a way for us to do this? Can we go after local police budgets?”
One place to start is with those college campuses whose police forces receive 1033 and Homeland Security funding. The time is ripe for student journalists and activists to use the information furnished by Muckrock and to do their own digging to take on police divestment campaigns with the tenacity, political savvy, and exuberance that’s pushed universities nationwide to divest from fossil fuels, private prisons, and Israeli occupation.
Young people in solidarity with the people of Ferguson and the families who have lost sons and daughters at the hands of militant police are poised to illuminate these connections between education, state surveillance, and state violence in a uniquely powerful way.
Join the North Carolina Student Power Union and Ignite NC for a weekend in Raleigh as we come together to fight to intensify the student voice in North Carolina. This conference will discuss issues such as Student Debt Crisis, New Voter ID Laws, School to Prison Pipeline
They tell us it’s a crisis, but it’s not. It’s a crime that the Governor’s budget cuts taxes on the rich and raises taxes on the working poor while inflicting major damage on the University of North Carolina system, considered one of our state’s greatest assets. It’s a crime that because of academic austerity in our state - increasing tuition while slashing financial aid - the “UNC-Chapel Hill Office of Scholarship and Student Aid estimates the proposal could cause the average student’s debt to double - from $17,000 in loans to $33,000 - within three to four years.” It’s a crime that the Board of Governors is an unelected body, with no forum at meetings or voting representation to express the concerns of students, professors, faculty, families, and working people. And still they call us apathetic.
It’s a crime that the skyrocketing cost of higher education is making attending a public university in North Carolina inaccessible to many low-income youth today, a scheme that only furthers the school-to-prison pipeline that values profit over livelihood and freedom. It’s a crime that our state’s policy of out-of-state tuition for undocumented North Carolinians furthers xenophobia on our campuses, and takes advantage of students who have lived most of their lives in North Carolina.
It’s a crime that UNC Greensboro plans to spend $91 Million - all from student fees - to build a second recreation center on campus, while cutting over 390 course sections in the coming academic year. It’s a crime that the state budget, year after year, targets our state’s proud and acclaimed Historically Black Colleges and Universities for being “unprofitable,” such as their attempt to close Elizabeth City State University this past spring.
It’s a crime that our tuition money pays for higher salaries for more administrators, but lower salaries for professors, adjuncts, and campus faculty, many of whom don’t make a living wage.It’s a crime that they’ll send us out into a job market that doesn’t pay a living wage of $15 per hour, and expect us to still be able to pay off our student loans.
It’s a crime that the remainder of our tuition money is turned around and invested in the inhumane occupation of Palestine, in companies that rely on brutal working conditions and sweatshop labor, and oil and coal corporations whose profit-margins actively contradict our futures.
We’re not alone in our story. These crimes against a generation are international. But internationally, students have been at the forefront of fighting back. From Santiago to Tunis to Montreal, and across the United States, students have dedicated themselves to getting organized to create a better future. This is our task now. Where there is collective crime against the youth, there must be collective organization by and for the youth.
It’s time for us to take back our schools, as students and workers, to make sure universities are accessible to all, that student debt ceases to burden our generation, that undocumented youth can rise with us, that our commitment to HBCUs remains protected, that the school-to-prison pipeline is abolished, and that our tuition doesnâ€™t reinforce global capitalism that hurts us all. Join Ignite NC, the NC Student Power Union, and students, faculty, and young people from across the state from Friday, September 12 to Saturday, September 13 in Raleigh so that we - together - can get organized and change our state. When we fight, we win!
Join the North Carolina Student Power Union and Ignite NC for the weekend of September 12-14 in Raleigh as we come together to fight to intensify the student voice in North Carolina. This conference will discuss issues such as Student Debt Crisis, New Voter ID Laws, and the School to Prison Pipeline
Sign up for our conference! No fee and we are able to provide lodging and travel reimbursements for folks! Come hear the voices North Carolinians in the struggle!
Welcome to the official website of North Carolina Student Power Union. We are a student-led organization made up of members from various campuses across North Carolina. We’re building a coordinated grassroots statewide student movement to fight back against the attacks on public education and all forms of oppression in our communities.
Columbia student will carry her mattress until her rapist exits school
September 2, 2014
While most students at Columbia University will spend the first day of classes carrying backpacks and books, Emma Sulkowicz will start her semester on Tuesday with a far heavier burden. The senior plans on carrying an extra-long, twin-size mattress across the quad and through each New York City building – to every class, every day – until the man she says raped her moves off campus.
“I was raped in my own bed,” Sulkowicz told me the other day, as she was gearing up to head back to school in this, the year American colleges are finally, supposedly, ready to do something about sexual assault. “I could have taken my pillow, but I want people to see how it weighs down a person to be ignored by the school administration and harassed by police.”
Sulkowicz is one of three women who made complaints to Columbia against the same fellow senior, who was found “not responsible” in all three cases. She also filed a police report, but Sulkowicz was treated abysmally – by the cops, and by a Columbia disciplinary panel so uneducated about the scourge of campus violence that one panelist asked how it was possible to be anally raped without lubrication.
So Sulkowicz joined a federal complaint in April over Columbia’s mishandling of sexual misconduct cases, and she will will hoist that mattress on her shoulders as part savvy activism, part performance art. “The administration can end the piece, by expelling him,” she says, “or he can, by leaving campus.”
As painful as I know the constant reminder of attending school with her rapist must be, I’m glad she won’t be the only one forced to remember. I hope the rapist drops out immediately…or better yet, I hope he faces the justice he deserves.