The Forum


Talia Balakirsky, a freshman majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

The riots that have broken out over the last few days in Baltimore over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray have quickly spiraled out of control.

These protests have become so violent that Larry Hogan, Maryland’s governor, has established a 10 p.m. curfew for all residents of Maryland, declared a state of emergency and brought in thousands of National Guard troops.

But for me, this isn’t a new story. Throughout the time that I lived in Baltimore, there were always problems and conflicts – whether it was the high crime rate or the growing number of people living in poverty. From all of the issues that have been piling up over the past years, a riot of this magnitude was perhaps inevitable.

For years there has been a clear tension between the Baltimore police and the community. With so many similar situations occurring nationwide that are connected to alleged police brutality, it would almost be odd if something similar didn’t happen in Baltimore.

As a native Baltimorean, these riots have broken my heart. With finals starting and the semester coming to an end, I couldn’t find the time to go back to Baltimore to help. Having to watch these protests from afar and being unable to help restore peace to the city has truly been tough. If I were in Baltimore, I would likely be helping clean up from the riots or ensuring that my family is safe.

Baltimore has always reminded me of such an active, lively place. The Inner Harbor is usually packed with tourists or locals looking at ships anchored nearby or enjoying the restaurants. Living in Baltimore also gave me the opportunity to experience the diversity that the city has to offer.

It’s upsetting, though, that violent protests have become the norm. As a result, many residents of Baltimore and the surrounding area have to work around the rules put in place thanks to the riot.

For example, my grandmother lives about four miles outside of the city and told me that she had to completely alter her schedule. She works as a teacher at a local college and has to run all of her errands either before she begins teaching for the day or quickly after she’s done because many stores have been closing at 7 p.m. so all employees can get home before curfew. It hasn’t been easy for her.

But despite all the violence, I’ve noticed that my family and friends who have witnessed the riots are standing together in solidarity. Many have taken to Facebook and Twitter to express their anger about the violence but, more overwhelmingly, have expressed the pride they feel in being able to call themselves Baltimoreans – even during this tough time. Many have uploaded pictures to social media that read, “Baltimore: the greatest city in America.”

Yesterday, hundreds of Baltimoreans participated in peaceful demonstrations throughout the city and hundreds more worked to clean up the streets – and I’m so proud of that. And today, the Baltimore Police Department announced that no arrests or injuries were reported during the latest protests.

Riots like the ones we’ve seen in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo. can give a city and its people a bad reputation. We often forget that while the people who have participated in the riots may shed a negative light on Baltimore, their actions are not a reflection of the entire community.

The residents who have cleaned up behind their fellow Baltimoreans, offered water to the National Guard troops who were working to keep order in the city or joined a peaceful protest are the residents who represent the true Baltimore.

Yes, these riots may leave the city and its people scarred and yes, we will have to work together to rebuild. But I doubt anyone will end up feeling any less proud to call themselves a Baltimorean.

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Devon Fitzgerald, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

The battle for transgender visibility and inclusion has been a difficult one – especially when it comes to representation in the media. But there has been some progress.

A 14-year-old transgender girl named Jazz Jennings is the new face of Clean & Clear’s “See the Real Me” campaign. As one of the most prominent examples of a transgender person representing a company, she’s received a lot of attention on the Internet. Her campaign has been covered by CNN, the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, and she will also star in her own reality show that premieres this summer.

It’s exciting that we’re moving toward seeing transgender visibility in the media, and I’m encouraged that so many media outlets are interested in Jennings.

While there’s a possibility this was nothing but a publicity stunt for Johnson & Johnson – the parent company of Clean & Clear – it’s still good news that a transgender teen is at the center of a national ad campaign. Hopefully, someday, my children won’t understand why this was a such big deal because transgender individuals will be comfortable and feel fully accepted.

As students, we can’t control what happens in the media. But we do have some say over LGBT rights and representation at GW. Thankfully, those issues are important on our campus. But advocates for transgender rights shouldn’t slow down: Instead, they should start looking to other schools for innovative ideas we can put in place at GW.

Last month, our campus hosted renowned transgender rights activist Laverne Cox. The Student Association recently approved four bills expanding resources for transgender students. And this week is Gender Inclusive Bathroom Week – an effort to educate students about gender inclusion through initiatives like Toilet Trainers and a Square 80 “Shit In.”

It’s encouraging to see these initiatives happening on campus. When it comes to gender and sexuality, it’s critical that as a forward-thinking school, we make sure everyone on our campus feels included and has equal opportunities.

That’s why we can’t stop now. There’s still more we can do to advocate for LGBT students in our community. Even though GW is a liberal campus that aims to be inclusive, other schools are being more creative in their support of transgender rights.

For example, Emory University, one of GW’s peer schools, has a database of faculty, staff, alumni and students who are out. Not only does this provide LGBT individuals with the opportunity to connect with one another, but it also increases their visibility on campus and by extension, normalizes the LGBT community at Emory.

Another peer, New York University, hosts its own Transgender Awareness Week. GW should try something like this to show that transgender issues are important to everyone in our community. The NYU LGBTQ Student Center also offers to host workshops or training sessions to student organizations that request them.

We have no control over what happens in the media, but we can make our own change here at GW by strengthening current policies, putting new and innovative programs in place, and overall making sure our University is a place where minority groups aren’t exploited or disadvantaged.

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Sarah Blugis, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

I love making cheesy Spotify playlists – for parties, breakups, road trips and countless other events in my life. I’ve started working on my newest playlist for my very first summer in D.C. Obviously, the leading song will be a classic: “Summer in the City” by The Lovin’ Spoonful.

I’m excited to spend my first summer here. I’ll intern, pick up a second job and sign the lease for my first apartment. I don’t just feel like I’m pretending to be an adult anymore – I pretty much am one.

Though I don’t have personal experience with D.C. summers, I expect they’re just like the city during the school year: busy, crowded and stressful – as well as far more humid.

Each summer, D.C. makes a spectacle with the “running of the interns,” where interns sprint to the Supreme Court to get rulings. It’s a tradition that exemplifies the stereotypical political internship, but a summer in the District doesn’t have to be quite so fast-paced. Just because you’re interning here doesn’t mean your summer can’t also have some of the relaxations and comforts of home.

I refuse to let my summer be taken over by stress. It was a long year for me, filled with increased responsibility and tough classes. I’m going to work hard during the summer months and give my best at my internship, but I’m also going to take advantage of the season.

For me, this will include lazy Saturday afternoons at the pool on the Mount Vernon Campus, nights spent at 9:30 Club concerts and meeting some of this spring’s graduating seniors for drinks after work.

GW’s culture of ambition and forward-thinking dictates that we start staying here year-round as soon as possible to boost our resumes with internships, and most of my friends have already done it at least once.

It might seem strange that as a rising senior, I’m only just now spending a summer away from home, but I held out for so long because going back home has been important to me.

The summer after my freshman year at GW was the best I’ve ever had. I interned in my state senator’s office in the Pennsylvania state legislature all day, and nights were spent sitting by the lake or playing miniature golf with friends from high school. I made money and added something useful to my resume, but I also enjoyed the summertime the way you’re supposed to enjoy it.

Don’t get me wrong – internships are the reason many of us came here and will put us ahead of students who have little experience by graduation. I recognize that the opportunity to intern in D.C. over the summer is one that students shouldn’t miss out on if it’s financially feasible for them.

But we already spend too much of our time being stressed, and each and every one of us deserves to give ourselves a little bit of slack now and then.

This summer, I can’t go tanning by Lake Wynonah in my hometown with my best friends. My dad can’t come home early from work to take my brother and me to Knoebel’s, our local amusement park. I can’t drive on back roads with the windows down listening to my cheesy summer playlist.

But I can let myself have a little bit of past summers, and you can, too.

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Michael Cornfield is an associate professor of political management.

Hillary Clinton, who just released a new video last week after launching her campaign, could be two adjectives away from becoming the next president of the United States.

The last time someone of the same party succeeded a two-term incumbent was 1988, when George H.W. Bush kept the White House in Republican hands after Ronald Reagan. You have to go back another 40 years for the preceding occurrence, when Democrat Harry Truman won election outright after finishing Franklin Roosevelt’s fourth term. Eight years with the same president generates a strong impulse for change among the American electorate.

Bush sold himself as a “kinder, gentler” version of Ronald Reagan – though he didn’t put it that baldly. Instead, he spoke about “a kinder and gentler America.” The phrase reportedly elicited this acidic comment from Nancy Reagan: “Kinder and gentler than whom?” But Bush won.

Hillary Clinton has to project her leadership qualities as a change from President Barack Obama’s and from President Bill Clinton’s to boot, while still maintaining a sense of continuity with both of them. Such a persona, along with a strong economy and a non-imploding campaign organization, would put her in a strong position to win.

Her key rollout phrase – a first stab at a campaign slogan – expresses her desire and intent to be the “champion” of “everyday Americans.” The biography on her campaign web site, “Hillary’s Story,” affixes the adjective “forceful” to “champion.”

“Forceful champion” does not meet her need to partially differentiate herself from Bill Clinton and Obama.

The biography falls flat on emotional engagement as well. Here at the Graduate School of Political Management, we teach GW students to construct campaign narratives with story arcs. Audiences respond favorably to stories that entice them to identify with characters who seek something worthwhile and struggle to get it.

But “Hillary’s Story” doesn’t show her valiantly and successfully applying force to the causes of women, children and “everyday Americans” – which she has championed throughout her public life.

There remains ample time for Clinton and her team to find, test and plug in the right adjectives. Some of her many supporters in the GW community may help in this important campaign operation.

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Melissa Holzberg, a freshman majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

There comes a time during every student’s freshman year when he or she either thinks, “I picked the right school” or “I’ve made a mistake.”

Over the course of this week, I attended two formals – my boyfriend’s fraternity formal last weekend at the University of Virginia, and my sorority’s formal on Thursday. From the very beginning, I’ve felt pretty sure that going Greek at GW was the right decision. But this week, I learned a few things: I was not meant to go to a Southern school, I would not have been a Chi Omega at UVA and I was meant to be Greek at GW.

Being a “sorority girl” and “being Greek” have completely different meanings depending on where you are. I’d be lying if I said that GW was always my dream school. My three “dream” schools all gave me a swift “no,” and one of those was UVA.

At UVA, we drove to a vineyard where a big white tent was set up on a hill. White tablecloths, white napkins and accents of red decorated the venue. First was the picture-taking portion of the evening. Girls from the same sororities took pictures, and the different pledge classes of my boyfriend’s fraternity posed likewise. Then came dinner and dancing on a built-in dance floor in the middle of the tent. We made our way home on the bus at 11:45 p.m.

At my GW formal, we started in Thurston Hall and met up with some of my sisters. We drove to a lounge in Adams Morgan and walked down the stairs of the venue to a dark basement. Flashes of some iPhone cameras went off, but mostly there was screaming as people greeted each other. Some platters of cocktail food were on the bar. The music started fast: couples were in their own world, and groups of sisters and their dates danced until 1 a.m.

It’s not that I felt out of place last weekend when I was surrounded my boyfriend’s fraternity brothers at a beautiful vineyard. I didn’t feel out of place because I knew that this could have been my world. But I chose the basement of a lounge in Adams Morgan because I wanted to be able to let loose with my friends without worrying about my surroundings.

I never thought I’d be a “sorority girl,” and I never thought I’d attend a fraternity or sorority formal. A part of me now thinks I never thought I’d be or attend those things because I imagined Greek life to be like the movies.

But I found a school that put Greek life in a different light for me. My idea of what a sorority is like didn’t match the opinions of those girls at UVA, nor did my idea of Greek life as a whole match my boyfriend’s. But that’s OK.

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James Levy is an adjunct professor of music.

The cuts to GW’s music department, and the jazz program in particular, provide the opportunity to make a few interesting comparisons – namely, to one of last year’s Oscar-nominated movies, “Whiplash,” which centers on a jazz band at a fictional music conservatory.

At GW, I have the job that actor J.K Simmons portrays: director of the jazz band. Our GW groups is known as King James and the Serfs of Swing.

While I enjoyed watching the movie, my entire jazz-band-director soul recoiled in horror at how the character, Terence Fletcher, ran his band rehearsals. He humiliated and screamed at his students – a fierce approach that I haven’t even come close to taking.

Instead, I motivate my students by exposing them to the recordings and videos of Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Cab Calloway.

The only way I even come close to Terence Fletcher is that students do not talk for the entire two-hour rehearsal. I tell them that while I hope they practice hard and become better musicians, my primary focus is to get them to be the best that they can be right now. Performers often refer to this as “being in the zone.” With no talking, all those portions of the brain that are normally waiting in the wings to joke and crack up the class instead get on the task of listening and playing music. It is a great lesson to learn and helps them give their best performances.

But my band has apparently been eliminated, at least for the fall 2015 semester.

Not only has our band been a big part of my students’ lives, but it’s been a big part of mine, as well. I’ve been teaching at GW for 30 years, and have been running the Serfs since the early 1990s. I’ve spent time outside of rehearsal preparing music, emailing band members feedback from the last rehearsal – without yelling at them – and looking at YouTube to find relevant videos for the band to watch.

The Serfs is made up of about 12 members, give or take a few brass players. Our students are a mix of music majors, minors, and non-majors or minors who participate for credit. We practice all year leading up to our big shows at celebrations like International Jazz Day.

Once upon a time, I was paid for four hours a week, which reflected the time I actually spent on the job directing the band. Then in 2006, right before the union election, that time was cut down to three hours. Now, the amount I’m paid doesn’t reflect the work I do.

Over the last 10 years, I have still spent at least four hours each week doing prep. I do it because I love the music and I consider the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s to be the most important music to teach college students. It is the ancestor of all the popular music they listen to today.

I did make a few attempts to get my fourth hour back. Our hourly pay for giving music lessons is mandated in our union contracts. We get paid by the hour for other duties, like directing an ensemble. The department typically included extra time for responsibilities like preparing for rehearsal, but since those hours aren’t contractually defined, GW has been able to cut my pay. And bless their hearts, in the Southern sense: They’re doing it again.

Some of the jazz combos were originally funded for three hours a week, and then were cut down to two hours in 2006. Now, directors are paid for an hour and a half of rehearsal each week. Who rehearses for just 90 minutes? Not Terence Fletcher, I bet.

In contrast to the action portrayed in “Whiplash,” I can assure you my own drummer won’t attack me on stage. And my brass section will also act friendly, but sadly, I’m not sure I can say the same for GW’s top brass.

Next week, you can come support the Serfs and hear us perform as part of Jazz Appreciation Month, either Tuesday, April 21 at 5 p.m. in Pershing Park or Sunday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. in the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre. We’ll be swinging as best we can.

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Lisa Mays is a third-year law student enrolled in the GW Law School’s Domestic Violence Project.

Charlie Sheen, Chris Brown, Columbus Short, Christian Slater. Tragically, fame and names that begin with the third letter of the alphabet are not all these men have in common.

Like these men’s partners, more than one 1 in 4 young adults reportedly experience abuse in a relationship. Studies estimate that between 20 and 42 percent of college students experience relationship violence. Therefore, chances are that someone you know is involved in a relationship like this.

Most people think abuse in relationships is limited to physical violence, but it also includes emotional and psychological controlling behaviors, which may not be overtly violent but are still indicative of danger. Also, a single act of physical or sexual violence is often used to instill a threat of further violence and used to control a person.

Some examples of psychological or emotional acts include using threats to manipulate behavior, like someone questioning how much a partner loves him or her as a motivator to action. Other types include monitoring social media or where a partner travels, name-calling, blaming and isolation from friends and family.

Abusive physical acts could include shoving, pulling hair, kicking, choking, limiting food or sleep, forcing a partner to drink or take drugs, any unwanted sexual touch, and lack of respect for sexual boundaries and comfort.

Abuse in relationships occurs regardless of age, sex, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic background. Violence in relationships escalates in frequency and severity.

Relationship abuse will not always be obvious, but healthy relationships are: They are based on mutual respect, trust and honesty, where both people support each other’s goals, decisions and opinions, and feel comfortable and safe.

If you think a friend would ask for help if he or she really needed it, you are mistaken. He or she may want to protect his or her partner, or may feel ashamed or afraid of judgment. It is your responsibility to act. Don’t assume that the situation will work itself out or that someone else will decide to help. There are a variety of things you can do to help your friend.

Keep in mind that your approach is important. Your friend’s safety is a concern. Trust your instincts, and try to avoid judging someone’s choices because you are not in his or her shoes. Approach your friend in a private setting and say you’re concerned or worried. Say, “I’m here to listen.”

Allow your friend to tell you at his or her own pace. Then help your friend recognize that the behaviors are not normal. Say that even if he or she thinks it is his or her fault, these behaviors actually fit a pattern that is widely recognized as abusive across millions of relationships. Relationship violence is not a disorder, but rather a learned behavior stemming from our society’s acceptance of violence against women. It is not his or her fault. Express your support – not your judgment.

Offer specific help and options, like, “I can go with you to the GW relationship violence specialist.” Or guide your friend to community services like the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which can connect him or her to resources like counseling centers, shelters and legal service providers. The University Counseling Center provides brief individual counseling and referrals to longer-term services.

Finally, contact the police if there’s an immediate threat, or the University Police Department if on campus – as long as your friend agrees this is the right option.

Take the long-term view and respect your friend’s decisions with ongoing support. Keep checking in, and support your friend whether or not he or she ends the relationship. On average, it takes at least five attempts to leave an abusive relationship. Recognize that you can’t know the obstacles someone is facing and that danger increases at separation, so your friend needs support and strategic thinking before ending it.

Offer support no matter what decision he or she makes and don’t be discouraged – your expressions of concern and support may plant the seeds for future change.

Helping your friend may not be easy, but it will be worth it. Everyone deserves respectful, healthy, loving relationships.

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Illana Feldman, Harald Griesshammer, Benjamin Hopkins, Dina Khoury, Dan Moshenberg, Katrin Schultheiss, Greg Squires, Gayle Wald and Andrew Zimmerman are members of the Faculty Association’s steering committee.

Who’s the bully now?

Last year, Board of Trustees chair Nelson Carbonell called the faculty – particularly its tenured members – bullies. He used the claim to assert the need for the revision of the Faculty Code, the document enshrining shared governance between the faculty and the Board of Trustees.

At the time, Carbonell asserted the code required updating to better align it with the University’s strategic plan. His initial intent was to complete the trustee-driven revisions in time for their annual retreat last June.

Carbonell quickly learned that running an institution of higher education with a tradition of shared governance is considerably different from running a company. In the face of faculty uproar, he backed down and pledged to include faculty in the process.

By tradition, revisions to the Faculty Code – not only the key governing document of GW, but essentially the faculty’s contract with the University – have come from the Faculty Senate, the only elected representative body governing the University. Instead, the Board of Trustees appointed a series of working groups composed of trustees, administrators and faculty to formulate the proposed revisions. The Board of Trustees is now threatening that if it does not get the changes it wants, it will unilaterally enact them, bypassing the senate.

This would be a tragic mistake. It would also clearly demonstrate that the Board of Trustees’ corporate membership has no interest in the shared governance traditions of higher education.

The faculty have been presented with a list of proposed changes from the working groups reflecting limited faculty input. Though the Faculty Senate has offered a number of detailed proposals for, comments about and critiques of the trustees’ changes, they have been largely ignored. The board is currently holding a number of town hall meetings around campus which, instead of listening sessions, seem like lectures on what the trustees want to do.

While students may chuckle at the idea of someone lecturing to their professors, this is no laughing matter. It endangers GW’s very nature as a top educational institution valuing excellence and equity.

The Board of Trustees claims that it has a fiduciary responsibility for the overall health of the University, and that responsibility gives it the power to enact the changes it wants unilaterally.

It is ironic that in the drive to expand shared governance, trustees appear intent on circumventing the central institution of shared governance, the Faculty Senate.

While trustees have been so busy revising the Faculty Code, where have they been in the midst of the University’s current budget crunch? Doesn’t their fiduciary responsibility include the classroom experience, where students are being forced into larger classes and have fewer course options? Has anyone seen a trustee in class lately?

Under the Board of Trustees’ watchful eye, the student learning experience at GW has worsened as the working conditions of faculty have degraded.

If trustees believe it is their responsibility to unilaterally revise the faculty code, perhaps it is time for faculty and students to consider revising the Board of Trustees’ bylaws. Faculty members have an institutional responsibility to ensure the University’s educational excellence and equity. Likewise, students are here to both participate in and advance those values during their time at GW.

Given that, why don’t faculty and students have voting members on the Board of Trustees? That would be true shared governance.

We wonder, given the Board of Trustees’ apparently dismissive attitude toward shared governance and meaningful faculty input, who’s the bully now?

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David Shinn is professorial lecturer in the Elliott School of International Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia and Burkina Faso.

Al-Shabaab, an organization based in Somalia, launched a horrific suicide attack last week on Garissa University College in neighboring Kenya, resulting in the death of 148 people – mostly students.

Al-Shabaab, which means “The Youth,” is dedicated to the overthrow of the Somali government and the creation of an Islamic caliphate. Garissa is about 100 miles from the Somali border in a region inhabited by Kenyan Somalis. The university was an easy target – reportedly only having two armed guards.

Unfortunately, the attack on Garissa was not the first al-Shabaab attack in Kenya: There have been many, including a major one at Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013. Al-Shabaab claims that it has singled out Kenya for attack because Kenyan troops are part of the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, which is trying to remove al-Shabaab from the regions of southern Somalia that it still controls.

While al-Shabaab has always employed terrorist tactics and has been affiliated with al-Qaeda for a number of years, its actions have become more heinous with the passing of time.

Unable to confront the African Union forces in major battle, it has chosen small ambushes, improvised explosive devices along roads, suicide bombings, targeted assassinations and, of course, attacks on civilian targets in Somalia and neighboring countries. This keeps the organization in the news and, probably – in the minds of the al-Shabaab leadership – relevant.

A notable revelation following the Garissa attack was that one of the four terrorists killed by Kenyan security forces was Abdirahim Abdullahi, whose father is a local chief in the Somali-inhabited part of Kenya.

In 2013, Abdullahi graduated from the University of Nairobi with a law degree and was considered a “brilliant upcoming lawyer.” His father reported that he disappeared a number of months ago, and it is now apparent that he crossed the border into Somalia and joined al-Shabaab.

Abdullahi is not the first well-educated person with a seemingly bright future to join al-Shabaab or some other terrorist organization. We may never know what triggered his decision to give up his future and agree to take part in what he must have known would be a suicide mission.

The most senior leaders of terrorist groups tend to be reasonably well-educated and sometimes come from prominent families – as in the case of Osama bin Laden. I have long argued, however, that the followers or foot soldiers in groups such as al-Shabaab tend to be young, unemployed, minimally educated and generally alienated from society for a long list of reasons. I continue to believe this is true, even if Abdullahi qualifies as a foot soldier rather than a leader.

The case of Abdullahi reminds us that good education and excellent prospects for a successful life do not eliminate the possibility of making a really bad choice – in this case, one that resulted in Abdullahi’s death, and, more importantly, the deaths of many innocent young people who also once had bright futures.

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Editor’s note: While this piece has been published in other states across the country this month, we’re excited that The Hatchet was the only newspaper in D.C. offered the opportunity to run this submission.

Barack Obama is the president of the United States.

In an economy increasingly built on innovation, the most important skill you can sell is your knowledge. That’s why higher education is, more than ever, the surest ticket to the middle class.

But just when it’s never been more important, it’s also never been more expensive. The average undergraduate student who borrows to pay for college ends up graduating with about $28,000 in student loan debt.

That’s why my administration has worked hard to make college more affordable. We expanded tax credits and Pell Grants, enacted the largest reforms to the student loan program in history, and fought to keep interest rates on student loans low.

We’ve acted to let millions of graduates cap loan payments at 10 percent of their incomes, so they don’t have to choose between paying the rent and paying back their debt. I’ve sent Congress my plan to bring the cost of community college down to zero because two years of higher education should be as free and universal as high school is today.

I recently unveiled another way that we can help more Americans afford college. It doesn’t involve any new spending or bureaucracy. It’s a simple declaration of values – a Student Aid Bill of Rights.

It says: Every student deserves access to a quality, affordable education. Every student should be able to access the resources to pay for college. Every borrower has the right to an affordable repayment plan. And every borrower has the right to quality customer service, reliable information and fair treatment – even if they struggle to repay their loans.

That’s it. Just a few simple principles. But there’s a lot that colleges, lenders and the people you send to D.C. can and should do to live up to them.

Consider the other actions I took three weeks ago. We’re creating a way for borrowers to ask questions about their loans or file a complaint and get a fast response. We’re going to require businesses that service loans to provide clear information about how much students owe and their options for repaying it, and help them get back in good standing if they’re falling behind, with reasonable fees on a reasonable timeline. We’re also going to take a hard look at whether we need new laws to strengthen protections for all borrowers, wherever their loans come from.

If you believe in a Student Aid Bill of Rights that will help more Americans pay for a quality education, I’m asking you to visit Sign your name to this declaration. Tell your families, friends and fellow students. I’m going to ask members of Congress, and lenders, and as many business leaders as I can find. Because making sure that students aren’t saddled with debt before they even get started in life is in all our interests.

This issue is personal to me. My grandfather had a chance to go to college because this country decided that veterans returning from World War II should be able to afford it. My mother was able to raise two kids by herself in part because she got grants that helped pay for her education.

And Michelle and I are where we are today because of scholarships and student loans. We didn’t come from families of means, but we knew that if we worked hard, we’d have a shot at a great education. That’s what this country gave us.

In the United States, a higher education cannot be a privilege reserved only for the few. It has to be available to everyone who’s willing to work for it.

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