It’s no secret – Rhode Island’s education system is nothing short of dysfunctional.
In an era of accelerating austerity and deepening inequity between the haves and have-nots, educational institutions, widely perceived to be a great equalizing force, are serving the opposite function for many poor and working-class students. Rather than promote social mobility, Rhode Island public schools reinforce class and racial divisions by shuffling students from one failing institution to the next while preparing students for a life of perpetual economic uncertainty. Meanwhile, the operations of our public institutions in the state [and nation] are increasingly being privatized and militarized, prioritizing the needs of profit rather than the needs of people – effectively transforming education into a commodity.
The state of higher education is emblematic of this reality. Colleges and universities across the nation are being consistently targeted and underfunded, causing tuition prices to skyrocket and forcing many students to take on massive student loans. When funds are allocated to colleges or universities, they are sucked up by the bloated administration or diverted towards militarizing campuses. Further, departmental curriculum and degree programs are catering more to the market-needs of neoliberal capitalism and the carceral-state, as is evident with programs such as Teach for America and Criminal Justice Studies at Rhode Island College- the former a program that undermines the teaching profession and the latter a program that aims to train future law-enforcement agents.
Even with the temporary tuition freeze in RI, a quality college education is still inaccessible for too many students across the state. Students from poor and working-class families attending CCRI, RIC, or URI come to find that their living reality while in school is working endless hours just to barely be able to afford tuition and basic living expenses. The daily costs of student life makes it difficult to even afford public transportation, much less a decent meal throughout the day. This situation further drives students to incur massive debts by way of credit cards and more student loans, pushing many – particularly students of color -into a cycle of debt-poverty and low-wage work, both while completing their undergraduate and especially after graduation.
How well can a student perform when they feel exhausted after working countless hours the evening before? How well can a worker perform for countless hours at minimum-wage while worrying about whether they should cram for the exam the following morning or actually take out time for breakfast to make it through the day?
Better yet, we should ask ourselves: How well can a university function without students or workers to comply with normal order?
Student life does not have to be this way. We can claim our dignity and seize control of our futures if we are willing to unite in our struggles and fight for our collective interests.
We can no longer accept piece-meal reforms from politicians or wait around for band-aid solutions to structural antagonisms from administrative bureaucrats. Nor can we defer our struggles to manipulative representative structures that act against student interests.
Just as students in Quebec, Mexico, and Puerto Rico have done, we must become protagonists of our own struggles and demonstrate our collective power to resist austerity, privatization, and the militarization of our lives and futures by disrupting the status-quo.
The purpose of the Rhode Island Student Union Project is to build the collective power of students across the region to fight towards an equitable, liberatory, and free education. The goals of the project are to
1. establish a local student union, based on direct participatory democracy and direct action starting at Rhode Island College and
2. build a base of support for developing a statewide student union across RI modeled after student organizing efforts in Quebec, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere.
Contact the organizing committee: email@example.com
“Like” the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/RIStudentUnion
Join the announcement e-mail list: firstname.lastname@example.org