Student activist Christina Chaise spoke from the steps of City Hall at the PSC’s May 5 rally against austerity at CUNY. Her remarks appear below.
I am a student at Hunter College, where I am pursuing a double major in psychology and sociology. Prior to Hunter I went to BMCC, where I graduated with an honors degree in liberal arts. Coming from poverty, the achievements I’ve made are not expected; my mother didn’t even graduate from high school. Yet through my experience in college, I’ve learned that education is liberation. It provides an opportunity to flourish in this world and to have a meaningful life.
This makes me question why education is not prioritized and properly funded. The same issues we see in primary and secondary schools – lack of resources, overcrowded classes, overworked teachers, lack of individual attention, and increasing dropout rates – these are the same issues we’re seeing today at CUNY.
But why? These problems are growing at CUNY because of the skewed priorities of our representatives in government, where their motto seems to be “Profits before People.” How else can we describe the decision to give a tax break to millionaires, while cutting funds for CUNY students’ education? Yet I believe the social benefits that come from having educated and well-paid citizens far outweigh the monetary costs. We must give precedence to investing in our people – in our future.
During my first semester at BMCC, I had a professor who changed my life. His name is Chris Agee, and the class was in political science. It is because of his pedagogy and his belief in me that I am here today. Unfortunately, he was an adjunct, meaning that he did not get the pay he deserved, nor the privileges that would allow him to give his students all the attention they deserve. Many of the best professors I have had were adjuncts, and it pains me to know that they don’t get the pay and respect they warrant.
Because of the choices made in government and in the CUNY administration, faculty, staff and students get hurt. Faculty are underpaid and students underestimated. In a country, and especially city, that has so much wealth, this should not be the case. Instead, we need more public investment. Money is there, despite all the rhetoric: getting the money where it’s needed is just a question of priorities.
That is why we are here today: to demand that CUNY be a top priority. To demand that it get as much, if not more, investment than the banks and corporations that get bailouts and tax breaks. Where is our bailout? When is our break? Students, faculty and staff are struggling to make ends meet, and the more increases there are in budget cuts and tuition, the further away we move from opportunity; the further away we move from progress.
The freedoms we have today weren’t given to us – they were fought for. And this is a fight we’re not going to give up. Education is not a privilege. It is a right – and (as Martin Luther King Jr. once said) “a right delayed is a right denied.” The struggle for our rights is a battle we are prepared to fight – and ready to win.