by Ayla-Monic McKay
Although not all students experience financial difficulty during university, for those who do it can be a frustrating and stressful experience. In a city like Halifax, where the cost of living and rent is high and the available jobs don’t pay well, the struggle to survive while trying to pay tuition and study successfully can be harrowing.
We’re used to hearing the stories about how so-and-so survived on mac-and-cheese and ramen noodles for a month, but what about those students who regularly use the food bank because they can’t even afford that? Or dumpster dive to help make ends meet? Admittedly, many people dumpster dive for political and ethical reasons, there are those who do it simply because they can’t afford to buy groceries, and the food bank only has so much to offer – there are many hungry people in Halifax, and simply not enough donations to go around.
Rent can be exorbitant in Halifax. I spoke to a girl who lives with nine other people – in a situation where closets and living rooms become bedrooms – because it is the only way she can afford a place to live. Food and shelter are basic necessities, but not only that – they are basic rights.
In a country driven by a “knowledge economy,” education is essential to gaining access to meaningful – or even just non-demeaning – labour. But with rising tuition fees and falling public funding, students are more often than not faced with a “non-choice”: get fed or get an education. An increasingly unstable post-graduation job market makes it even more difficult to justify school. The result is the poor stay uneducated and the rich continue to dominate the economy.
It’s not everyone’s experience, but it’s a common enough one to be indicative of a wider problem – one that needs to be addressed with intelligence and commitment. Quebec students refuse to take it lying down, and neither should any student, anywhere. Food, shelter, and education are basic human rights, not a “pick two” option.
Ayla is a recent graduate of Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University. Her thesis, “School Now, Debt Later: What Students Put Themselves Through to Put Themselves Through School” is available by e-mailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will be continuing her studies with a Masters of Library and Information Science, and hopes to get involved in a professional capacity with youth advocacy and right-to-education activism.
Check out “the student poverty song” commissioned by the DSU last year.
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