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Student activism should be applauded


The April 3 letter in The Daily Targum titled “Student arrests defame University” makes the argument that Rutgers University Student Assembly President Matt Cordeiro’s arrest in Washington, D.C., along with previous campus efforts such as the “Walk into Action,” are not in line with student interests. The author himself states that the purpose of RUSA is “giving a voice to the student body.” It is unusual that he admits this before presenting a flawed argument that seeks to chastise his representatives for doing exactly that.

Cordeiro’s arrest occurred at the end of a peaceful protest at Sallie Mae, an institution in Washington D.C. that has profited considerably from intense tuition hikes affecting every student at this University. The author states that “this man’s quarrel was with Sallie Mae, not the police of Washington, D.C.,” which is entirely accurate.

Cordeiro and two other University students were arrested because they were actively fighting against a ruthlessly exploitative student debt system that predicates itself on justifications of “harsh economic times” and “shared sacrifice.” They understand that corporate entities in this country are using the recession as an opportunity to expand their influence through these debt programs. They are fully aware of the fact that $1 trillion of student debt, which is greater than all credit card debt combined and concentrated on a much smaller population than credit card debt, effectively amounts to the next “bubble.”

These three students had a problem with institutions such as Sallie Mae casting aside student interests — such as those of the author. I am proud to know that my elected representatives made their dissent clear in defense of these interests. Their arrests occurred because Sallie Mae did not want these interests advocated for on its property, and our representatives proudly went to jail continuing to do so.

Given the disconnection of a political elite in this country from the citizens it claims to represent, I consider it refreshing that our own political elite is this willing to sacrifice itself to express student distress. There have been political campaigns for RUSA leadership positions in the past that treat such activism as not in line with student interests, but a political entity willing to take bold measures is exactly what University students deserve.

Their achievements, such as the lowest tuition increase in decades, are certainly more in line with student concerns than elected sycophants who campaign on such statements as “dignity,” “honor,” and “University pride.”

My experience is that these concepts ultimately amount to “resume padding,” and I can think of nothing more honorable than the willingness to be arrested for expressing that University graduates are effectively indentured through staggering amounts of debt.

I find myself wondering where the author’s outrage is concerning the fact that the University governing authorities and institutions such as Sallie Mae are not acting in line with their mandates as educators. The purpose of education is to encourage the intellectual development of young people and nurture their full potential, not to treat their tuition fees as a commodity without any concern for their future economic situation.

Education cannot and should not become a “corporatocracy.” Preventing this requires fierce dedication from our elected officials against a variety of actors, including Sallie Mae. I am proud to argue that the brave RUSA representatives we elected are honorable enough to fight through this dedication despite possible arrest. And I can think of nothing more dishonorable than quietly tolerating this exploitation.

Bilal Ahmed is a School of Arts and Sciences majoring in Middle Eastern studies with minors in political science and African, Middle Eastern and South Asian languages and literatures.

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