The battle cry, “Hey! Hey! Ho! Ho! Student debt has got to go!,” echoed from a crowd of students gathered on a frigid Friday afternoon in McPherson Square.
More than 50 students from GW, American University, the University of Maryland at College Park and Howard University, initiated and attended a march as part of the greater Occupy D.C. movement to protest what they feel is unjust student debt.
“I’m here for both personal reasons and the concern for the whole system. It’s scary being a senior and facing that higher education isn’t any cheaper than George Washington University. It leads to apprehension over what’s next,” senior Kaiser Kabir said.
The College Board released a study this week stating that the average cost of tuition and board at a private school in the U.S. carries a price tag of $38,589. Sarah Lawrence College topped off the list as the most expensive school, requiring an all-in cost of $58,334 per year.
“The average college graduate graduates with $24,000 in debt. I, and the other folks here, want to see much larger, much more serious steps towards relieving student debt and making it more manageable,” organizer Isaiah Toney said.
Leaving McPherson Square, the march’s trajectory led them to the offices of Sallie Mae, a government-backed corporation that provides student loans. The group attempted to rally in the building’s lobby. The financial company has faced criticism and controversy in recent years over its allegedly predatory lending practices.
The march’s final destination was not disclosed until a pre-departure briefing at McPherson Square, in an effort to prevent the company’s security from barring the protestors from entering the building’s lobby.
Patrick Taylor, a veteran and 2009 alumnus, expressed aggravation with the loan system as a whole, despite having no loans himself.
“Student loans are a scam. These government-backed corporations back loans that they know students can’t pay off, and the banks are at no risk,” Taylor said.
Protestors faced security guards shielding the building’s entrances. Carrying signs and letters addressed to the corporation, the marchers chanted outside the building’s entrances as employers peered down from their office windows.
The students were denied access into Sallie Mae’s lobby. The demonstrators adorned the building’s walls with letters expressing their qualms with the system and their desire to cooperate in, as a letter stated, “hopes of a better future.”
“I do think it’s the responsibility of a democratically elected government to step up and act in the best interest of people who live here. It’s worrisome to try to shift that responsibility away from the government. I don’t know any students who voted for President Knapp. The people who are truly accountable to us in a democracy are the people we vote for,” Toney said.