Upcoming Conference Addresses Student Debt

Upcoming Humanities Conference at SJSU Addresses Increasing Impacts of Debt on Students

On April 20-21, the Department of Humanities will host a series of speakers, panels, and workshops to address the increasing impact of financial debt on students’ lives, and possible solutions to the issue. Titled “You Are Not a Loan,” the two-day event will present the issue of student debt from a number of perspectives from across the humanities. Students, faculty, staff, and the public are all encouraged to come hear the speakers, participate in the workshops, and help shape an effective strategy to transform current debt realities that many students, alumni, and faculty face.

“We are living in a time where it’s increasingly normal for students to take on tens of thousands of dollars in debt just to get an education,” says Jason Wozniak, SJSU faculty member and co-organizer of the conference. “There is nothing normal or ethical about that, and yet, being an indebted student has been normalized.”

“What needs to be emphasized is that debt is not only an economic problem, it is also an educational one. It corrupts educational experiences in significant ways. For example it delimits types of thinking in that it forces students to constantly engage in cost-benefit analysis in regards to their educations. When this happens education is further rationalized and commodified,” continues Wozniak. “Student debt especially affects the humanities. Students are reluctant to study philosophy or literature knowing that they’re facing an average $20,000 debt when they graduate. So instead of following their interests, what moves them, or what they may actually be good at, they focus on fitting into majors they believe will offer immediate financial compensation upon graduation.”

Wozniak explains that the title “You Are Not a Loan” has three meanings. “First, that a student isn’t a commodity, despite their entry into a financial agreement which makes them feel like one. Secondly,” he continues, “debt is an issue which affects everyone at the university—students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community. Third, the debt dilemma can only be resolved collectively. No individual can stand up to their creditors alone, survive indebted life by themselves. It’s going to take all of us working together to seriously address this crisis and come up with workable solutions. We have to push back collectively.”

Thursday’s events will held at MLK Library and run from 2:00-7:00, featuring talks from student debt experts David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford University), Kate Padgett Walsh (Iowa State University), and Bob Samuels (San Diego State University). These speakers will examine indebtedness from the perspectives of philosophy, comparative literature, economics, art, politics, and education studies. Thursday will also feature speakers from The Debt Collective and the San José State branch of the CSU California Faculty Association. “Debt affects faculty as well as students,” says Wozniak. “Not only are we teaching students who are taking on debt, faculty members themselves are frequently paying off their own student loans—something not easy to do in the Bay Area without taking on outside jobs. The more faculty has to worry about servicing debts, the less they can adequately serve their students.”

On Friday, the conference’s focus will shift to what should be done to address the issues of debt. Community organizations and national social justice groups will discuss potential political solutions. Topics to be addressed include, but are not limited to, immigration debt, the possibility of a ballot measure for a state inheritance tax meant to fund higher education, convivial research on debt, Bay Area gift economies, and collective debt resistance.

In many ways, SJSU is the perfect place to engage this topic and, after recent CSU tuition hikes, it is the perfect time. Citing a recent Demos report, “Debt impacts traditionally marginalized groups more than other groups and has an enormous effect on Black and Latino and Latina students,” says Wozniak. The diverse student body of SJSU, then, is in many ways more affected by student debt than less diverse campuses. From this perspective, increased debt becomes a matter of social equity and a threat to the social mobility that SJSU has traditionally offered to graduates from these communities.

“Debt is hollowing out public education and, by extension, it is adding to social and economic inequalities and threatening our democracy,” says Wozniak. “Addressing the issue of student loans is crucial to present and future generations.”

All events are free and open to the community.

Living the Indebted Life: You are Not A Loan Conference:
Thursday, MLK Library from 2:00-7:00
Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/student-debt-conference-day-1-tickets-31167674353
Friday, Student Union Theater from 10:30-4:40
Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/student-debt-conference-day-2-tickets-31166242069

Pre-conference events:
Student Debt in the Age of Trumpism: The Need for Utopian Debt Demands – Jason Wozniak
April 4, 2017, 4:30-6:00pm.  MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center

Critical Financial Literacy – Coleeta McEleroy
April 6, 2017, 11:30-1pm. Student Services

MOSAIC Open Mic on Student Debt
Thursday April 6, 2017, 6-8pm. MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center

The Aesthetics of Debt: Not a Pretty Picture – Cynthia Rostankowski
April 11, 2017, 11-12:30pm. MOSAIC Cross Cultural Center

Declare Your Debt! Teach In and Art Activity
Tuesday April 18, 2017, 11-1pm. 7th Street Corridor

For more information, contact susan.verducci@sjsu.edu or jason.wozniak@sjsu.edu