CEPA organizers ‘March on Whitmore,’ continuing to pressure administration to respond to student debt crisis

The 50 person crowd gathering by the ramp outside of Whitmore administration building (Brie Bristol/Rebirth Project)

By Brie Bristol

AMHERST, MA – It was apparent to the public that an overcast day at the University of Massachusetts Amherst would not stop organizers and allies of the Center for Education Policy & Advocacy from marching to the Whitmore administration building, who were advocating against student debt.

The Center for Education Policy & Advocacy, also known as CEPA, has been an agency on campus since 2007, “building grassroots power movements to expand the political consciousness of the campus.”

On Friday, April 12, CEPA as well as their student allies, marched to Whitmore from Goodell lawn. The organizers discussed with the 50 person crowd that they were there to address the UMass Amherst student debt crisis. “The university can’t drown out our voices any longer,” CEPA education & training coordinator Emma Kinney said, stirring up the audience.

CEPA organizer Erik Plowden leading the crowd in chants towards Whitmore (Brie Bristol/Rebirth Project)

Carys Lamberg, a UMass Amherst junior and CEPA policy, legislative & research coordinator, believed student debt is degrading to her because as long as she is acquiring debt to attend school, she felt she was doing something wrong. “[I am] constantly thinking about what that number is,” she said after labeling debt as claustrophobic and stress-inducing.

Other students such as Tamar Stollman and Desmond O’Halloran, who did not have a first-hand experience with student debt like Lamberg, said that they were marching in support of their friends.

“We should not have to graduate with an incredible amount of debt,” said Stollman. Several students protesting affirmed this claim, as well as believing that taking out loans is similar to being in bondage.

“No one should have to struggle worrying about paying for college,” discussed Hayden Latimer-Ireland, a UMass Amherst freshman, who attended the march advocating for herself and the rest of her student body.

Once rules were displayed to the audience, Sonya Epstein, a march organizer, passed the bullhorn over to multiple students in order to share the horror stories of student debt.

Sonya Epstein, a CEPA march organizer, displaying rules of safety to the march audience (Brie Bristol/Rebirth Project)

Jiya Nair, expressed her concern for the students of UMass Amherst because more than ever students are dropped out of the university, an action that she sees as putting talent to waste. “We shouldn’t stop fighting until we get the responses that we need,” Nair said after questioning why the country doesn’t see education as important as it really is. She also expressed her uncertainty about the future of education. Stating that it is appalling that the United States will pay $80 billion for the military, but they will not spend any money towards free college education.

Other undergraduate students who spoke at the gathering were Yanni Cabrera, representing the UMass Latin American Cultural Center, Marissa Mackson, representing the UMass Amherst RA/PM Union, and Tim Scalona, the SGA chair of the Social Justice and Empowerment committee.

Scalona, a UMass political science student, shared a personal anecdote with the crowd, detailing that his life has been shaped by student debt and challenges to pay tuition, once leaving him homeless. “We should not have to feel the crushing weight of student debt,” Scalona said emotionally, explaining his fear of not being able to attend the university next year.

As Scalona closed out his speech, Epstein gathering the crowd to begin the march from Goodell lawn to the handicap ramp of Whitmore.

As the crowd marched forward, a banner guided them as they screamed, “no cuts, no fees, education should be free!”

They also held up cardboard signs with slogans in haiku form.

“What do we want? Debt free college! When do we want it? Now!”

It was unclear if their chants about the 2.5% tuition increase could be heard from UMass Amherst Chancellor Subbaswamy’s office, which was their ultimate goal.

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