A group of students from Shorewood High School walked out of school on a windy day Thursday to protest rising tuition fees and to advocate for student debt forgiveness. They called on President Joe Biden’s administration to forgive student loan debt.
The walkout, organized by Shorewood High School’s Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapter, included speeches on the Shorewood High School lawn before students marched to Spaights Plaza at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where other speeches took place.
In an April 11 letter to parents, Shorewood High School principal Tim Kenney said the event was organized by students at the school, but not sponsored by the school. . Staff were present for in-school events but not at off-campus events.
“We applaud and support our students for using their voices to raise awareness about these important issues,” Kenney wrote.
Kenney also said parents should call the school attendance office to mark their students’ absences as excused. Thirty students participated.
Ezra Grinker, political education manager and junior at Shorewood High School YDSA, cited statistics on tuition and student loans, including those showing that more than $1.6 trillion in student loan debt are due in the United States.
“This trend is one of many worsening wealth inequality in the United States, as high tuition costs discourage low-income students from pursuing a college education,” Grinker told high school walkout participants.
Grinker then asked those in attendance if this is how education should be run in the United States, to which attendees shouted “No!” He then asked if college education should be provided at an affordable price, to which attendees shouted “Yes!”
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Treasurer and senior Clara McElfresh of Shorewood YDSA said the student debt crisis is disproportionately affecting people of color, citing statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union that say “Two decades after taking out their student loans, the median black borrower still owes 95% of their debt, while the median white borrower has already paid off 94% of their debt.”
“It’s in everyone’s interest that the Biden administration write off student loan debt,” McElfresh said. His remarks, made on the lawn in front of the school, were applauded by the participants in the walkout.
One of the speeches at Spaights Plaza came from Eric Rorholm, who challenged incumbent Milwaukee County District 3 Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman for his seat. Wasserman was re-elected with 58.5% of the vote while 40.8% voted for Rorholm. One of the groups that endorsed Rorholm was the Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America.
Rorholm congratulated the students on the walkout.
“We have a long, long, long way to go to get rid of this win-win economy. A big first step … is to write off student debt,” Rorholm said. “The president has the power to do this. … Let’s show him how badly we need this help.”
Other speeches at Spaights Plaza were given by Shorewood High School YDSA chapter president Bobby Gronert and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professors Jeff Sommers and Joel Berkowitz.
Sommers is a professor of political economy and public policy at the university who provided historical context on the issue of student debt. Berkowitz is director of the university’s Center for Jewish Studies and professor of foreign languages and literatures.
Berkowitz is also a member of American Association of University Teachers (AAUP) Chapter of UWMserving on its executive committee and previously president of the chapter.
He said he was proud of the group for speaking out on the issue and said the university’s AAUP chapter supports them. Berkowitz’s son, Reuben, a member of the YDSA chapter of Shorewood High School, is the chapter’s campaign manager and was involved in the walkout.
“We are all with you in this effort,” said Joel Berkowitz.
Collective Debt Campaign
The walkout is part of a national campaign to The debt collectivewho came into contact with YDSA chapters, according to Gronert.
According to the group’s website, The Debt Collective “is a membership-based union for debtors and our allies.” The group said they have its roots in the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“Our current economic system forces us into debt: student debt for education; rising mortgage or rent for housing; unpaid bills for utilities, telephone, medical care and even incarceration. No one should have to go into debt to meet basic needs. These debts are illegitimate and the system must change, and we are united to win this change. How? Through the power of our union,” the group said on its website.
Shorewood High School’s YDSA chapter is one of 15 high school chapters nationwide and the only high school with a chapter in Wisconsin, according to the YDSA website. Most schools with chapters listed on the group’s website are in colleges and universities. Gronert said the chapter was chartered by the national organization YDSA in December 2021 but was founded in May 2021.
Shorewood YDSA Advisor Jason Lowery, a Spanish teacher at Shorewood High School, is a member of the Milwaukee DSA. He said the high school group is primarily student-led and its role is to counsel them and connect them with Milwaukee DSA members.
“These are students who are really thinking not only about their future, but about the future of their generation. I’m 40 and I still have student debt. So I think it’s an issue that affects everyone. world,” Lowery said.