Education Justice Rally Speech – April 23rd, 2019 – Nathan Warren

Hello, my name is Nathan Warren, and I’m a senior here at Millersville. I’m studying English Education, because I believe that communication is key to how we understand the world, and I want to pass that on to younger generations. Currently, I work 18 hours a week on campus, take five classes a semester, and worry every day if I will be able to afford my way through to graduation. Even if I can, I’m surrounded by the reality of being in debt for life.

I’m a member of the Pennsylvania Student Power Network, which has empowered me to speak up against the injustices affecting students and society. We’re in campuses across the state, building connections between colleges and showing us that we are not alone in our struggles. If we unify as students, we can make our voices heard and make the change we need.

College feels like a process you go through, more than one you learn during, and I am often too stressed about my finances to put my full effort into my classwork. How can I be expected to write essays at my best when I are wondering when I will lose my roof? I’m too scared of costs to heat my apartment in the middle of winter, and I know I’m not alone. Plus, overwork in attempt to make ends meet is all too common among students, and as a disabled person, I am constantly fatigued trying to navigate the exhausting modern college student way of life. I have whole-body pain daily, but I still must take on a full workload in order to survive.

Where's the Funding?
Where’s the Funding?

Disabled, working, and other marginalized students are forced to confront numerous additional barriers to education and are the last thought about by educational administrations. I want to truly learn in an environment that cares about the unique lives of students and understands that workload and finances severely limit the potential of the people who are making the future.

When it’s part of the college experience to skip meals because they’re too expensive, when it’s part of the college experience to sleep on the floor without a mattress because it’s too expensive, when it’s part of the college experience to work two or three jobs on top of a full semester because rent is too expensive, there are issues in education. These are experiences that not only I have had, but many of my friends and classmates have had as well. For example, the term ‘food insecure’ was originally used as a euphemism to refer to other countries, but now it’s a word every college student understands; nobody should be ‘food insecure’. We’re forced to accept these conditions as a normal part of what it means to be in college, but we shouldn’t have to.

That’s why I support the PA Promise as a step toward affordability for all. I’m a member of the PA Student Power Network, a statewide organization of students advocating for justice, for us and for our communities. We believe that nobody is free til we’re all free, as the civil rights organizer Fannie Lou Hamer once said. We’re ready to make our voices heard, and ensure that all students have free and accessible education—no matter whether you’re undocumented, have a criminal record, or are an older or nontraditional student who’s had to take time off.

As a state, Pennsylvania ranks 47th in state funding for higher education, and as a result we as students have the highest levels of college debt in the country. While tuition fees at colleges are going up, state funding is going down. The PA Promise would cover two years of tuition at PA community colleges and four years of tuition at PA state system schools, including Millersville. This would apply to recent high school graduates whose families make less than $110,000 a year. The PA Promise would be life-changing for many.

I also want to make sure this vision is accessible for all. As we know, there is a lot of diversity in who is a student and who wants to be a student- there is no single way to be a student. We also need to think about students who are disowned by their families for being queer, or students who have had to take leave for medical issues, or students who are returning to college after a long period of time. If these students are able to access education, our society will truly change for the better, with creativity and education leading the way to innovation.

Imagine a world with free college, a world where education is acknowledged as a human right. What change will this bring you? I’m excited to support PA Promise as a step towards this world, and to keep building the power of students and communities. I encourage you to bring what you’re learning today back to others; share the feelings and energies of a space that won’t settle for injustice. Talk to your friends, your family, your peers; show them that there is a way we can do something, as a people. These conversations are how we will make change.

Nate Warren
Millersville Pennsylvania Student Power Network