#TuitionMustFall: The Radical Black Student Movement in 2016 & Beyond

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2016 01 14 Gus BSFR photo by Jeff Putney

Outside of the distraction that is the presidential election season, radical black students within this country have been reinvigorated in our fight against white supremacy and capitalism.  While some organizations are still ambiguous about their ideological foundation, one point must now be made very clear: reforms that are co-signed by colonizers will never provide the colonized of this world with justice.  As these moments mature into movements, we must all push each other to better understand the role that capitalism and colonialism play within our society.  As a radical black student organization, much of our responsibility to the revolution resides within the educational realm.  As we struggled throughout 2015 to educate and organize our campus and community, we were inspired by student activists in South Africa and learned an important lesson from them: angry and organized students still have a vital role in the liberation struggle.  Given the failures of our own university to divert from a disastrous status quo, this is a lesson of supreme importance for us as we enter into the new year.

The University of Illinois, much like the society it resides within, is a bastion of contradictions and perverse neglect of oppressed people.  This institution preaches acceptance and diversity, but practices fear and exclusion when confronted with ideas that challenge white elitist values.   This institution claims to follow a path of progress and social justice, all while receding into an abyss of neoliberal policies that distract and perpetuate injustices against the working class.  Thus, members of the University of Illinois system, just like the rest of our society, must abandon simple discussion for progressive brownie points and take necessary steps to restructure the institution from the ground up.   This means that there must be a complete redistribution of resources on both the campus and the community.  One area in which this restructuring must take place is the tuition system.

2016 01 14 Karen Olowu photo by Rochelle Nicole

As a for-profit (yet public) institution, the UIUC has engaged in the exploitative process of pricing-out black students and other historically looted populations via skyrocketing tuition fees.  In the last decade alone, tuition at the University of Illinois has risen over 70 percent.  These policies have contributed to a countrywide tuition-peonage system that diminishes the independence of black students while barring most of their peers from even considering college as a viable option.  Furthermore, while black people make up almost 15 percent of the population within the state of Illinois, black students make up less than 5 percent of the student population at UIUC.  Despite those numbers, UIUC has recently declared that, in the event the Illinois General Assembly and governor don’t fund the program this year,  MAP-Grant recipients, which many black students are, will have to make up the difference in lost aid themselves.  With the average MAP-Grant award being about $2,700, this will be an unbearable blow for many working class black families.

Meanwhile, scholarships, grants, and resource-strapped programs continue to be cut as UIUC brings in over $660 million in tuition.  A 2015 undergraduate student in-state tuition, fees, and room and board is an estimated $30,346; multiplied by 35,000 undergraduate students, it totals to an estimated $1.06 billion that the university collects.  Considering that the state cut only $36 million from the university budget, a substantial amount of that remaining total is pocketed by balloon-salaried administrators and other privateers.  UIUC will claim it is broke, but the fact remains that UIUC is disingenuous about its profit margin.

2016 01 14 Rally Crowd photo by Rochelle Nicole

Our focus must not be to lessen the impact of global capitalism on our system of education through reform efforts, but instead we must imagine and struggle for revolutionary changes.  For the revolutionaries within Champaign-Urbana, UIUC is a theatre within which we must boldly confront our oppressor on the topic of educational restructuring.

A modern example of radical opposition to racial capitalist control of education can be found within a nation possessing a profound history of opposition to white supremacy.  The educational system within South Africa, like the U.S., exemplifies the enduring legacy of Western colonialism. Racial inequality in South Africa is as egregious as it has ever been–60 percent of black South Africans living below the poverty line and less than half of black South Africans graduate from high school. In 2015, the South African government proposed a 10 – 12 percent increase to tuition at public universities.  Almost immediately, a series of student protests consumed the country.

2016 01 14 Rally photo By Khalid el-Hakim

One, the #feesmustfall action, successfully halted the proposed tuition hikes. A second, the #rhodesmustfall action, is calling for the end of institutionalized racism within South Africa’s schools.  Through these actions, the students of South Africa declared their right to affordable and anti-racist education. Like their parents, they did not adhere to the illogical “politics of respectability.”  They collectivized through political education, threw stones, set up barricades, and unapologetically demanded access to education beyond the stifling confines of Britain’s imperial legacy.

We must follow the example set by our South African family.  If the proposed 10 percent tuition hikes helped awaken the radical spirit of young South Africans, then we must view the student loan debt travesty that is occurring within the U.S.  as having the same revolutionary potential.   Allowing rich white elites to grow even marginally richer by exploiting students through tired liberal reforms will never amount to justice.

2016 01 14 Sunny Ture photo by Rochelle Nicole

Justice, as far as it concerns the cost of higher education, must be defined as the abolition of the tuition system completely.  There are enough resources within this country to allow for free education at all levels, but it will never be that way until we demand it to be so.

The elimination of tuition, like other systemic changes, must be a nation-wide battle that is fought on the local level.   As an institution within a corrupt system, the University of Illinois must be held accountable for that system’s ills–which it happily benefits from and perpetuates.  Like our South African comrades, we must dare to do what is right and proclaim “no more.”

Black Students for Revolution UIUC

Black Students for Revolution is an independent black student organization that is fully committed to building a revolutionary movement based on the self-determination of black people in the struggle for decolonization through intercommunalism and radical intersectionality. Black Students for Revolution stands firmly against the threefold components of racial oppression that dominate black communities both in the United States and black communities across the globe: political subjugation, economic exploitation, and social humiliation. We seek to build communities and institutions for oppressed groups, particularly the black working class. As black scholar-activists, we recognize our unique role in the universal fight against the common enemy of all black people, and seek to fulfill it without compromise.


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