Why You Should Read: The Soul of Student Debt by Chris Maisano

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applying to college sucks. paying for college sucks more.

Chris Masiano does an excellent job of breaking down the process of student debt and declaring bankruptcy. As the cost of tuition and fees continue to rise in disproportionate amounts to wages (tuition and fees more than doubled in 2000 which is more than energy, housing, or even health care inflation) it becomes more and more “normal” to rack up student debt. Especially in a country that tells us that our success later on in life is linked with a college degree, the “choice” of whether or not to go to college is becoming less and less a choice and more and more a student to adult debt pipeline.

The simple explanation is that state funding for higher education has dramatically declined. However, instead of funds coming from somewhere else this new burden rests on us, the students, and our parents whose household incomes have shown to have leveled off in the past 20 years.

More than this, in the last 10 years average earnings for those 25-34 years old with Bachelors degrees has fallen by 15% while their average student debt has increased by 24%.

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student loan debt exceeds credit card debt, reaching $1 trillion. this is not looking good.

As if this wasn’t already bad enough, the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978 decided that the commission would no longer allow those with student loan debt to declare bankruptcy for fear that students would try to take advantage of the system and go to college and simply declare bankruptcy after they graduate—despite no proof that this had been or would be an issue. 

What was really disturbing was the way the commission spoke about those with severe debt who could not find a job after college, despite their degree, and could clearly show that they certainly had “undue hardships” because of their debt. The panel argued, “the Debtor has a duty to maximize her income…Although she is working as a full-time teacher, the Debtor admitted that ‘it would be possible’ for her to get a paying summer job.” By reducing these people to “Debtors” and nothing more, it masks the very human experience of financial imprisonment that takes a toll on much, much more than your finances.

Maisano also did an excellent job of explaining what student debt, as a concept, does in our society. He describes its social function as “to teach us how to be investors and risk-takers, entrepreneurs who have taken on debt to finance our climb up the ladder of bourgeois success.” This has the effect of shifting the guilt, shame, and fear onto individual members of society, highlighting our agency and freedom of choice in the “land of the free.” But what becomes abundantly clear is that we are given no real choices. Instead our lives are dictated by over-arching systematic discourses of what we HAVE to do and what we NEED to do, never once shown what an alternative might look like.

But Maisano gives us a place to start. Using the success of Quebec as a model, where a student movement successfully stopped government from increasing the cost of higher education, he focuses on an entire social reform—not just bankruptcy policies and student loan interest rates. No, according to Perry “class struggles cannot be resolved anywhere besides the realm of politics and the state.”

So let’s politicize higher education and ask the questions they don’t want us to. Let’s ask where Umass Amherst’s construction costs are coming from and address those sitting on “boards” and decision committees, quite comfortable behind the protection of their desks and 6-digit salaries. 

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Quebec knows what’s up

RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms

The people at RSA Animate have been making knowledge both easily accessible and visually pleasing since 2008. I first turned onto them with your video on Motivation as well as countless others which are equally as educational, entertaining, and brilliantly produced. They’re all around 10 minutes long and really worth the watch.

This one in particular does a great job of articulating why the educational system works for some and not all, while addressing the issue of smothering creativity and divergent thinking in a school system organized around the “only-one-right-answer” answer key. It calls attention to the ADHD epidemic being a mostly East Coast epidemic and how arbitrary it is to organize children by age group for education–especially when you take into account the fact that everyone’s skill levels, interests, and strengths are different. Our kids are not stupid, they merely do not excel in a narrow educational system that weeds out “different.” As long as our minds and skills are organized into the “academic” and “non-academic” we will continue to see people and their minds as unequal, furthering a system of inequality in finance, education, and human value.

Brogramming: Sexism in the Technology Industry

I want to take a brief detour to point out the very recent and hot-topic issue concerning rampant sexism in the technology industry. This blog has talked about technology, youth, and even hackathons, but it has largely overlooked the steep separation of gender (as well as the internet being a western dominated medium but that’s for another post.)

The following article is one I wrote originally for L’Elite magazine but it seemed to touch upon an aspect of these debates that is often overlooked.

Brogramming: Sexism in the Technology Industry

The rise of the “Brogramming” industry is as unsettling as it is ridiculous.

We should be downright worried about the future of females and their place in high-paying, technological professions—especially in a time of economic insecurity where females are consistently under- and unemployed (a trend that holds true for other minorities in the workforce.) What makes the rise of “Brogramming” particularly troubling is that it marks a distinctive shift from an industry of programming, to an industry of solely male programming.

The damaging effects of branding this up-and-coming industry as exclusively male have already started to take its toll. Fewer and fewer females are getting involved in the technology industry as others drop out due to the lack of employment options and the rampant sexism that occurs in the workplace. Females in the UK are earning 22% less than their male programming counterparts and in 2011 there were over 11,000 charges of sexual harassment filed with the EEOC resulting in more than $52 million in settlements. In a time where employment is hard to find, especially for recent college graduates, the gendering of one of the largest industries currently supplying jobs is bound to have detrimental effects for overall female employment.

One advertisement for a hackathon event held by Sqoot, lists “Need another beer? Let one of our friendly (female) event staff get that for you” under the “perks” section for attending the event—making it abundantly clear who will and will not be doing the coding. This suggests the proper place of the female is presumably waiting on the men, supplying them with their “masculine man drinks.” The poster could theoretically read, “Females step aside and let the men do the REAL work.”

Sqoot’s Hackathon flyer. A future in the comedy industry is.. unlikely.

Another ad by Geeklist features an attractive female in skimpy clothing dancing—or rather bouncing—for their most recent promotional video. These ads are clearly created not only for men but by men as well, which sends the message that this is a “man’s profession” and women should “keep out.”

This means that over half of the U.S. population is not laughing. Females of the technology industry are offended and are speaking out about it. Katie Cunningham, a female programmer and blogger, recalls her personal experiences of sexism in the workplace and emphasizes that they are all equally degrading experiences despite how subtle they may be. Katie describes being the only one asked to take notes in a meeting even when she is presenting as well as being the only one asked to organize a potluck—presumably because of her familiarity with the kitchen, cooking, and all things “home-maker,” and even receiving comments on her appearance during meetings while men’s appearances were almost never commented on. Katie, like many females who are tired of being told to “Lighten up!” eventually left the industry but has since returned to programming in large part due to the success of her blog to raise awareness of this issue.

Female Programmer in Malaysia – where programming is seen as an “indoor” or “woman’s” job. Click for article.

In the UK for instance female programmers made up 21% of all programmers in 2010, which is actually down from 24% in 2000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. What is unique about this is that in places like India, China, and Japan there is a stronger focus on science and technology in education for both males and females equally. The subtle but just as denigrating presence of sexism in the workplace and at programming events creates an environment where no female, despite her programming and technological skills, would want to step foot into.

Despite the severe backlash that the women like Katie, who spoke out about the “brogramming” issue were met with, it was not completely ignored by the programming community. Sqoot for one offered an official apology that read, “While we thought this was a fun, harmless comment poking fun at the fact that hack-a-thons are typically male-dominated, others were offended. That was not our intention and thus we changed it.”

This apology, perhaps the most insulting thing to come out of the “brogramming” issue, insinuates that there was nothing inherently wrong with insinuating that a female’s only place at a hackathon was fetching the male programmers a beer. It even goes so far as to say that the only reason they are issuing this apology is because some people were “offended,” maybe their next apology will suggest we “Lighten up” about the issue as well (and just to be clear this issue is sexism which is not a laughing matter.) Upon further backlash however, they succumbed and issued yet another apology.

Take two read, “When we put together the original event page, we used language that we now realize was reckless and hurt efforts to diversify gender in tech. We immediately and deservedly received an enormous backlash. While we aimed to call attention to the male-dominated tech world through humor and intended to be inclusive, the gravity of our wording was just the opposite. Our words completely undermined our intentions and went further to harm the world we’re trying to have a positive impact on.”

Geeklist similarly responded with their own apology for their unfortunate and ill-placed bouncing female advertisement within a profession plagued by sexism. They even went so far as “dedicating the rest of March and through the end of

Geeklist’s video ad screen cap

April to focusing all of our efforts on helping to showcase and support women in technology.”

Now this is change.

But is it real, long-term, here-to-stay change?
That change will only come when females can speak out about these issues and any others without the immediate and intense backlash from the industry, their co-workers, and friends. Real change is closer to an environment where a female can wear a skirt to work and a boss’ first comment will be on the brilliant and insightful presentation she gave last Friday instead of what she is wearing. Real change might even be Katie Cunningham already finding work in a respectful and intellectually challenging environment where the “brogramming” culture and the sexism that goes along with it are largely absent.

The female bloggers out there are making things happen and are working towards change. They are using the tools at their disposal—or rather, the keyboard at their fingertips—and they are speaking out, raising awareness, and weighing in on the “brogramming” culture.

Will you?

(For Communities of support and info for Women in Technology see: mywit.orgwww.witi.com and countless others.)

Youth, Student Debt, and the Advent of Internet Activism

It’s not that we don’t have a clear message it’s that we don’t have clear media.

Lauren Marie Vaughn

U.S. youth are being discredited by the media. Through common discourses promoting ideas of worthless and degenerate youth our value as citizens is being taken away while the “worthless youth” story is promoted and packaged for easy consumption. We tell ourselves we’re the exception—that it will work in our favor as we compete for jobs with someone who hopefully slacked off a little more than we did. However the sobering truth is that youth today know that we can’t afford to “slack off.” The problem is that the media is using their words and images instead of our own to let us tell the world who we are and what our struggles might be.

Despite the competitive work and academic market pitting youth against each other we have never been more united by our common struggles. The media has mostly done a good job of keeping us divided so that we internalize and echo the same stories of a decentralized and degenerate youth heard on the tv  and our stories continues to go untold.

This video uses visual displays of text and motion to educate the viewer, showing that a short 43 second video can be just as impactful as a full news cast. The topic of this video is social responsibility and the media’s inability to get this message across.

So here are some of those stories: Student U.S. loan debt now exceeds credit card debt for the first time ever. The class of 2011 is the most indebted class so far with the future of the following classes looking even more financially grim. Tuition costs continue to rise without guarantee that the quality of education or the value of our degrees will rise along with it. The spiral effect of student debt and unemployment in a time of economic crisis has left us with little to no options so that as we incur our parents debt on top of our own it ensures us long-term and even life-long debt that will span the generations.

Lauren Marie Vaughn

So when people ask: Why are U.S. youth not more involved in social action, activism, and other civic duties it is because under our current economic squeeze, societal pressure, and little to no time for anything else—we are burnt out, hoping against hope for a future that doesn’t include unemployment and debt. We have the weight of our futures on our shoulders and it is a heavy load. If we have any hope of surviving the “world out there” we have to enter the system and play by their rules simply because we have no other choices—and if there was we wouldn’t know what they would look like.

According to The American Prospect, youth “simply don’t have the time or energy to start innovative revolutions from scratch because they are so busy taking standardized tests and building their resumés with internships… When we get to college, many of us rush to join clubs in an attempt to recreate this safe feeling of sanctioned activity, of organized energies, of potential approval by authorities. Our innate passions and spontaneous actions have essentially been bred out of us.”

However, a recent trend of internet activism seems to be giving busy youth a way to get involved in protests and social action without giving up our pursuit of employment and education. In a desperate job market where even a moment’s rest can make it feel like you’ve blown your only opportunity at a decent future, the fear is immobilizing. And we certainly have something to be afraid of, living in an environment where our social action footprint all over the web could even make us LESS employable.

Of course, next to protests of the past internet activism is still a baby. It needs time to grow and develop. What we’re witnessing now is the working out of all the kinks while it gets through the beta stage. In addition, internet activism has a tendency to claim more establishment and progress than it actually merits, falling into techno-utopianism where internet activism seems to already be solving the time crisis of working professionals in their fight for democracy. This is not (yet) the case.

Still, youth, art, and the internet are intersecting in innovative and impactful ways. One of these ways is Hackathons where programmers meet to collaborate and brainstorm together to foster innovation and creativity. Jake Levitas, a youth who attended a hackathon in San Francisco, echoes the need to provide an outlet for youth to get involved and express their ideas. “I was waiting to see how I should be involved,” says Jake, “in the last week, I thought, ‘I know I’m going to dedicate a lot of time to [the Occupy] movement. I don’t know how, but I know I want to be involved.’”He found out about the hackathon via facebook, and while collaborating with other programmers they created Occupy Design.

OccupyDesign.org

The whole idea of Occupy Design, which unites graphic designers across the globe to educate through info-graphics and give Occupy Protestors not only creative tools and supplies but also information, is “that it is harder to argue with facts presented visually than it is a talking point. By getting more designers involved the hope is that “a centralized visual library can help the protests make a strong impression.”

Because I am a believer of youth as valuable citizens it seems to me the progress has been admirable and hopefully shows what’s to come in the future. If World Youth Movement For Democracy, Wire Tap, Taking It Global, and Craftivism are any indication the future might be a lot brighter than it seems for youth who feel there is no way out. By creating our own media outlets, information databases, and online communities for social change, youth are using the internet and artistic abilities in positive and inspiring ways, creating change through education and solidarity. What we need to do now is combine activism, awareness, and most importantly a clear mission with specific goals of what we want and communicate these to the public through our own media outlets. We need to draft policies and propose concrete steps of action, for only after they have been solidified by law will we start to see the change we’re all hoping for.

Info-Graphics and the Occupy Movement: What Works

Lack of direction and clarity. Preaching to the converted. Inaccessible language.

All of these have been used to describe the Occupy Movement and why it isn’t working. The mission statement for the Occupy movement, provided by Adbusters, certainly encompasses all of these things and as someone that might fall into the “converted” category I am not without my biases.

But what did Adbusters do that put Occupy on the map? What DID work and how can we (the people) replicate it?

http://www.adbusters.org/

Thanks to the technological generation with a love of all things facebook and internet-like, just these resources are being provided, most likely found through a couple key strokes into Google’s search bar. Adbuster’s famous “Bull and the ballerina” image kick started what would be seen as the very beginning of the Occupy movement, it’s imagery strong and it’s information (mostly) clear. Using the same color scheme adopted by many of the Occupy spin-off sites, the black and white photo with a hint of red text makes a statement.

“What is our one demand?” reads the red text hovering above a singular, stationary ballerina atop New York’s bull. “#OccupyWallStreet September 17th. Bring Tent.”

Not counting the hashtag, the date and the suggestion of a tent is the only other written information on the poster. The same reason why this poster works is the same reason why other info-graphics work: Simplicity. A simple color scheme and easily recognizable images or symbols allows for a visually appealing message that piques attention and also educates. This is what the technological youth of our time have shown they do well, and as displayed by Adbusters and their use of the hashtag, perhaps they know just the audience with the skill set and motivation to make something happen (the hashtag specifically speaking to youth and those on Twitter.)

Here are a few of those websites whose goal is to educate through art, using technology to create and the internet to distribute, in order to raise awareness, increase solidarity, and inspire.

OccupyDesign.org

What’s unique about the Occupy Design website is that it was one of the first to utilize the web to mobilize on-the-ground protestors and allow people to get involved with the Occupy movement that otherwise would not have been able to. Occupy Design recognized early on the role of graphic art in social action and protests and its ability to link, mobilize, and inspire people.


“The project’s goal is to create freely available visual tools around a common graphic language. The project places an emphasis on producing infographics and icons to improve the communication of the movement’s messages and the data surrounding them across the world.”

By providing a “tool kit” of free downloadable fonts, logos, and symbols, Occupy Design inspires people and gives them Occupydesign.orgthe resources they need without hindering creativity. This way people can take the same elements and create their own poster or info-graphic, utilizing their knowledge and creative talents and telling their individual visual story. Here again we see the repetition of a black and white color scheme (printer friendly) and the use of simplistic images and symbols.

The Occupy fist logo, extremely popular, simple, and easily-recognized, comes from the creators of the Occupy Design website and is seen at Occupy Protests everywhere. This simple logo unites the people with a message of solidarity and purpose in an easy downloadable and printable format, much like many of the other posters shared and offered in the Occupy Design gallery provided on the site.

Occupytogether.org:

occupytogether.orgOccupy Together’s website is immediately visually appealing, using a three-color scheme of black, white, and red (much like Adbusters and a similar black and white scheme for Occupy Design.)

“Occupy Together” is displayed at the top of the page and functions not only as a graphic header but also a mission statement, in just two words, what it is that this website is about. The sliding photo bar rotates images to catch the viewers’ attention in that crucial first 3 seconds of viewing a website, the motion working just as much as the repetitive color scheme.

“Click here to find an occupy group in your area” and “plan or start solidarity actions in your area” images next to the photo bar link you to an interactive calendar of Occupy movements going on across the United States.

Within three clicks I was at the “Occupy Boston – Umass” map. The obvious plus to this feature is that no matter where you are a map to the nearest protest is right at your fingertips doing almost everything except delivering you there. The downside is the information for specific cities or towns does not seem to be up-to-date. As a University of Massachusetts student I can look out of my window and see that there is, in fact, no Occupy-ing going on here at Umass anymore. Despite the “comments/corrections” button underneath the map, the information seems to have gone unkept.

Perhaps along with the countless 99% posters hanging up around campus and elsewhere, we should be printing out and hanging up hashtag and Occupy Design URL posters in order to add to the info-graphic conversation occurring on bulletin boards and telephone poles everywhere.

Howtooccupy.org

Seeking to answer one of the most pressing questions (What can we do and just how hard will it be?), How To Occupy’s possibilities seem endless. However the viewer is still somehow immobilized and with such an intense flood of information it can seem overwhelming. This website, a great resource for those already involved and planning, might not be as simple and visually appealing as the info-graphics of Occupy Design, Occupy George, or OccuPrint but it speaks specifically to the increase of solidarity, education, and information sharing that the info-graphics do so well.

Here are some young guys who know how to generate buzz surrounding the Occupy Movement using their own creative talents.

Here’s what How To Occupy says beautifully in their mission statement: “We are an open community based on free information, we believe in the power of synergy applied to creative commons and copyleft for the benefit of the many. Our goal is to establish a universal and accessible database made up of documents related to peaceful civil disobedience and grassroots practices, spreading it physically and on-line to the very assemblies, occupations and groups around the whole world.”

Clarity. Now that is something I can get excited about.

Creating the average Occupyer’s Survival Guide is not an easy task but it is something that these websites have been doing well, visually educating and linking protestors everywhere. The reason the Occupy Movement is vital in the discussion of info-graphics is because it started with a graphic. It did something right and it got people talking (and tweeting.) The internet, art, and people are increasingly fused together so that in some cases it is impossible to pull them apart without talking about the whole. These are the things that have worked and continue to work for info-graphics and their designers everywhere, making the power of not only the images and text clear but also of the people who use them.

Suffocation of Youth: Technological and Innovative Geniuses of Our Time

As  youth, what do we say in response to accusations of our apathy? Our narcissism? Our selfishness?

We feel ashamed, angered, and quickly jaded by a system that files us into narrow lines of opportunities. As passionate, articulate, and creative beings we are crushed. The weight of it all—of insurmountable student debt, parents losing jobs, brothers and sisters who need to be watched, getting yet another job and leaving homework and our education by the wayside—it is just too much. We feel trapped.

Like GENERATION DEBT says, we need to protest against our narrowing horizons and take back arts and the humanities. Because I have looked around and I have seen the insurmountable urge for freedom and expression, I have seen youth positively bursting with emotion and intellect, in search of an outlet—I know that we are not, in fact, the apathetic creatures depicted in newspaper articles and television news stories.

occupydesign.org


The art of
INFOGRAPHICS is becoming just this outlet. We are the generation of technology and the world wide web and although many of us are used to these things being held against us there are also a number of us using these tools to our advantage. Like in the case of YOUTHUBE and other youth media channels we are taking back the power and creating our own media outlets to inform and educate. Youth are realizing the power of the web like no one else. We have been using it to connect, start, and maintain relationships and so we recognize its potential to motivate, support, and supply our cohorts with what they need: representation.

 And here is what I pose: youth today are not the passive consumers we are thought to be (as products of corporate media suffocation) but instead we are creative and technological innovators of our time, using technology to create and the web to distribute. From Occupy posters to online communities to animated videos and designer “tool kits” of fonts, logos, and the like, we are supplying on-the-ground protestors with the tools to make their voices heard. We are inspiring others and ourselves to make a difference, engage in solidarity, and increase our awareness and responsibility of and to each other. We are youth and we are here—ready to take back our independence as social and political citizens, students, and future parents.

DRAW A LINE BETWEEN CONSUMERISM AND CITIZENSHIP:occupydesign.org
LIVE FOR YOU
LIVE FOR THE ART
LIVE FOR EXPRESSION
AND FORGET THE OPPRESSION

We are all artists & we are all expressive : CREATE

Newspaper clippings and permanent marker

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Zine – Consumerism and Classism


Lauren Vaughn Consumerism Zine

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We Are Tired of Being a Liability: Youth and Democracy in the U.S.

We are tired of being a liability. Youth are not pathological or something to be cured or wiped away. We are not draining the economy. We are not disposable. We are seen as selfish, lazy, and greedy. There are three specific issues that both cause and come out of these ideologies surrounding youths in the U.S. One issue is that school systems across the United States are largely considered to be “knowledge factories” where students are treated as products to be turned out and where regurgitation is rewarded and critical thinking is discouraged. Another issue is that youth are seen as selfish and the increasing popularity of social media is feeding the debate that youth are becoming more and more narcissistic and it is leading to a crisis of empathy. And third issue is that youth are seen as lazy which informs and shapes the environment that youth grow up in. What’s more is that the lack of, or I contend here the lack of awareness of, resistance specifically by youth in the United States is going largely unnoticed, perpetuating these negative stereotypes and creating an environment of oppression where change and opportunities are not ideas that are talked about or felt by its members. Continue reading