Why You Should Go on a Tuition Strike Fall 2020

Call For Students To Horizontally Organize & Participate In A Tuition Strike

Editor’s Note: (Miranda Dotson is a rising senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.)

TL;DR: Thanks to the exhausting work from activists, organizations, and abolitionists that stand in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives (or who may long precede it), whose work continues to pave the way in the centuries-long fight for racial justice, it is widely known that defunding the police, with the ultimate goal of abolition, is an essential principle of antiracism. This means that any university that claims to value diversity, inclusion, equity, or justice must terminate its contract with local police departments, and commit to defunding and abolishing its own university police. It is not enough to know the language of racial justice—it must be swiftly pursued. If you’re a white student committed to antiracism, you must use any social and economic privileges afforded to you to hold your university accountable to do so. You must go on strike

What are you paying next semester for college? And what do you feel when you make that tuition payment or sign a new loan so that you can continue going to school? Do you feel that the thousands of tuition dollars you struggle to pay for is a just price when higher education has been minimal cost or free for students across the ocean? And do your tuition fees still feel just when it is continuously revealed that the university you attend hires racist or sexist faculty, employs a violent police force, ignores or inadequately responds to the students’ Title IX cases or mental health crises, or invests its endowment in exploitative industries that are founded on the continued oppression of marginalized communities, and disproportionately BIPOC communities? 

The tuition strike calls upon students from varied positions and privileges to strike at their own capacity—for students that are comfortable, this means withholding tuition payments from their university until their university responds or agrees to the list of demands. A tuition strike will apply pressure that tuition-dependent university administrations cannot ignore to truly live up to the verbal commitments they make to antiracism and social justice. For many universities, this can mean terminating police contracts with local police departments. For American University, this means creating a plan to defund private campus police, with the ultimate goal of abolition. There’s so much more to demand—and the voices and experiences of Black, Brown, and Indigenous students must be at the helm of this transformation. 

Everyone is invited to participate in the mobilization necessary to lead up to a strike—we are only effective as a mass united front—yet students with white and/or economic privileges are particularly called on to strike. If your family shoulders the burden of near or full tuition, you are called upon to the front lines of this strike. University administrations, with its hollow promises of diversity and inclusion and performative quest for justice, rely on your tuition dollars the most to continue operating as an institution that is anything but. Withholding tuition payments as a united front until universities rise to the demands of strikers is a necessary cog to halt the racist and oppressive university operations from spinning like they always have. 

American University, as well as any other college administration in the United States, cannot continue to operate business-as-usual next semester—not when it’s evident that the business continues to be based in the reinforcement of systemic racism and white supremacy, not when the business policy is to throw a rug over the glaring instances of oppression on campus—all while expecting students to indebt themselves to an institution undeserving of their money. 

Expanding the number of brainstormers and coalitions is critical to creating a robust, living list of demands that speak to the needs of every student and comprehensively address the variety of injustices enacted by university administrations. If we’re not prioritizing the voices or centering the leadership of BIPOC students and organizations, student mobilization itself will fall short of justice. 

This year, the world as many of us knew it was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. As communities worldwide took action to limit the spread of the highly infectious virus, it was quickly made clear that nothing short of lockdown was necessary to even begin to face the challenges revealed by COVID-19. Racism is also a public health crisis, and more and more cities and states recognize it as such. The COVID-19 crisis taught many of us that not only could our individual actions have consequences for the rest of the community, but we saw how collective individual action could protect a community from a spike in cases. If we understand the importance of wearing a mask and practicing social distancing to protect and respect individuals at higher risk of contracting or dying from COVID-19, we can recognize the scale of action required to combat the persistent pandemic of racism. Our college campuses may be a COVID-19 hotspot in the fall, but they have long been a harbor of racism

Your mask is on—will your tuition dollars be withheld? 

This Op/Ed was originally published in The Blackprint

For more information on how racism and sexism run rampant on American University’s campus, follow @blackatamericanuniversity and @exposingauabusers on Instagram. 

Students that are interested in participating in a collective and intersectional mobilization on campus are invited to enlist here: https://forms.gle/5QNcqQYt3Ps7seXm8

With questions, etc. please feel free to contact studenttuitionstrike@gmail.com