Walkout.

Around this time last year, the twenty or so decades of my academic career came to a bittersweet end as I celebrated my final year of school by skipping down the crowded aisles of USC Annenberg’s Commencement Ceremony 2014 to receive my Master’s degree. It’s hard to believe that a whole other year has already gone by since that scorching hot and especially eventful day. But I’m proud to say that these past twelve months as an official big kid a.k.a first-time/often-very-scared-non-student– though not without its share of difficulties– has been as rewarding and inspiring as I had hoped it would be.

As I continue this brand new chapter in my so-called life, continue penning the pages to my story, I look extremely forward to evolving even more as a writer, a performer, and an all around creative artist.

In honor of grad students everywhere, here are just a few thoughts on academia as a whole. It comes right at the heels of 7 incredibly brave studio arts majors taking a stand and deciding to put an abrupt end to their own educational endeavors. Well, at least with our beloved University of Southern California. Oh, the power of a cohort. Inspiring, indeed!

Vive la révolution! It’s happening … News broke late last week that the entire first year MFA class at USC’s Roski School for Art & Design is leaving the school. For good.

0f0dde004a6d31f44619145ebc4ed04aIn an official statement released Friday morning, seven studio arts majors listed their grievances as well as their reasons for the unanimous (and inevitable) decision. Shockingly, the announcement came right as the USC 2015 Commencement Ceremony was about to take place– on May 15, 2015– and as a USC alum, a former graduate student and a fellow creative artist, it’s not difficult at all for me to understand the frustrations these students have, as well as rally in full support behind them.

We’re no strangers to the plethora of problems reigning in the world of higher education systems. This act or protest perfectly follows the continuum of adjunct professors (and other members of Academia) trying to make a difference at universities all throughout the country, with events like February’s National Adjunct Professors Walkout Day and last month’s rallying cry by USC adjuncts wanting to unionize. Let’s not even begin to talk about the never-ending poor professor problem or the mountains of student debt too many of us are currently stressing over. Don’t even get me started on my student loans…

A remarkable statement is being made by these magnificent seven, encapsulating the many many issues still lingering in higher education systems and with bloated academic institutions who often take a disregard to certain classes of students, especially in fields like the arts.

French poet, journalist, and 1921 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Anatole France once said,”Nine tenths of education is encouragement.” Well instead of channeling support for students, USC, as well as so many other educational administrations, seem only to be fueling further fire into the already messed-up relationship between universities and their ‘valued’ students, adding only more to the disappointment and feelings of “diminishment” too many have needed (and still need) to face.

“Despite having ultimate power over the program structure and curriculum,” the students write, “our experience has shown that the administration has minimal concern for their students. Meanwhile, faculty voices are silenced and adjunct faculty expands, affecting their overall ability to advocate. [We’ve] lost time, money, and trust in a classic bait-and-­switch, and the larger community lost an exemplary funding model that attempted to rectify at least some of these economic disparities. What we experienced is the true “disruption” of this accelerating trend.”

Ironically, the Roski School, which its heavily art, technology, and entrepreneurship-focused syllabi, boldly boasts the tagline, “The Degree is in Disruption.” Oh yeah, things are disrupted alright. More importantly, the lives of several aspiring artists have been forced to take an unneeded detour.

“We each made life-changing decisions to leave jobs and homes in other parts of the country and the world to work with inspiring faculty and, most of all, have the time and space to grow as artists. We trusted the institution to follow through on its promises. Instead, we became devalued pawns in the university’s administrative games […] Because the university refused to honor its promises to us, we are returning to the workforce degree-less and debt-full.”

a9fc8b64a6dcdd54e07b81d2343b1346While the fate of these seven is still unknown at this time, it’s reassuring to know that the larger issues of the corportization of higher education are not and will not rain on their parade. Together, they will hold crits and become even more involved in each other’s works. They will stage a “series of readings, talks, shows, and events at multiple sites throughout the next year,” aiming not to create the perfect or better institution for learning, but to “devising new spaces for collective weirdness and joy.” Because that’s what art is really about, right?!

Monsieur France seems to have gotten it right. Encouragement. Support. Faith. Optimism. Confidence. All of these are vital for an education to prosper. So despite the precarious situation these individuals now find themselves embroiled in, let it be said that there’s no one stopping them from continuing their quest to change the world. Not just the academic, but the creative one as well. The whole wide world.

Well played, my friends. Thank you for your courageousness.

-PC

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