Editor’s Note: A non final version of this piece was originally posted. The new version contains a slightly different reasoning in support of the referendum.
To the Editor,
The Student Union renovation project has been one of great confusion and of ambiguous intent – one, that at first glance, would seem to directly oppose the advances that we have made in advocating for lower fees and tuition as a whole. The referendum to decide whether or not we, as a student body, should accept the Student Activities and Trust Fund increase on our student bill, has been largely miscommunicated. Starting in the fall of 2019, there will be $50 increase of the SATF fee to $181 a year. In 2020, there will bring a final $50 increase, raising it to $231 a year. This $100 increase over the next three years – a cost that will continue over the next two decades until the Student Union renovation is paid off – is not easy to accept; every dollar counts, especially when it comes to a college education.
As a low-income and homeless student, as well as a Student Government Association Senator for the Class of 2020 – one of the many organizations that has pioneered this proposal – I am in hesitant agreement with the fee increase. A mere $10 can mean the difference between eating and going hungry for a family in a situation such as mine. Every dollar has extraordinary value and has contributed to the nation’s exponentially growing wealth gap. Given the amount that the fee will affect me in the future, coming from a background where I survived on spare change for meals, I do not take this decision lightly. I know that myself and others like me are not the only low-income students that will ever cross this campus. As our education is increasingly less prioritized by the federal and state governments and our tuition will increase, we are in the unique position, with the unique power, to make future students’ experience more manageable. We have the opportunity to make the University of Massachusetts a more affordable campus for those to come.
By accepting the SATF increases, we would pave forward a new era in student input, all the while taking control of a fee that would be sure to rise otherwise years down the line. It is quite unfortunate that, in order to truly have a voice in an entity that affects every student on this campus, we are forced to provide funds to the project through the fee – an exemplification of the lack of support for public higher education. This is a time in which we must use the “power of the purse”– further increasing how much we pay in order to be guaranteed a safe building for Registered Student Organizations and agencies to occupy, hold events and create suitable study spaces. The current Student Union poses masked health hazards to its occupants – most notably, asbestos exposure, which primarily affects the low-income workers who traverse the establishment on a regular basis.
However, I refuse to ask that we disregard our financial reality when considering our vote. There are no words to describe the subtle ramifications on a human level that this could have presently on those lacking financial support, and for this reason I am in cautious acceptance. I implore the University to take into account the effect that the fee increase could have for students in disadvantaged situations like my own, and to explore more areas of funding outside of this proposal.
For all of these aforementioned reasons, it is of utmost importance that we take action to support this increase. Wealth inequality and the lack of support for education is not something that will be fixed overnight and I foresee it maintaining its effects for years to come. In the meantime, it is my recommendation that we step up and take control over a situation that would otherwise undoubtedly impact disadvantaged students with far higher tuition increases. It is only when we start to look beyond our reality – to a time, years down the line, where costs could skyrocket due to inefficient spending and a decrepit Student Union – that we are truly able to prepare for something larger than ourselves.
SGA Senator for the Class of 2020