Students marched from the Arbor to Storke Plaza yesterday to protest high levels of student loan debt and other fiscal struggles facing students, showing their support for the anti-student debt campaign Fallen From Grace.

The event, organized by Associated Students Student Lobby, took place from 2 to 3 p.m., with students holding up picket signs expressing disapproval of Congress’s vote last year that eliminated the student loan grace period. While the decision was made in an effort to cap the loan interest rate at 3.4 percent, it forces all students who take out loans after July 2012 to begin paying them back immediately upon graduation.

Protesters urged other campus members to sign a petition calling on Congress to reinstate the student loan grace period, which usually spans about six months after graduation.

Third-year global studies major Maria Flores, issues coordinator of Student Lobby, rallied supporters together, chanting phrases like “Join the fight, our power is in numbers! We can’t do this alone and this affects us all!” and “This is not a fight we can afford to lose! Demand your grace period back!”

Meanwhile, Student Lobby members held up signs that read slogans like “Knowledge is power,” “Education is a right; Protect it” and “Fight for Resolution”.

Though protesters were only able to garner over 50 signatures and thus do not currently have enough to petition Congress, Flores said the main purpose of the rally was to urge students to acknowledge such grievances so they can eventually reach the congressional level.

During the rally, economics professor Gary Charness took Flores’ megaphone and requested that protesters “shut up,” saying he was opposed to the actions of students who “think they have a right to disrupt the educational process.”

Soon after, Charness took the megaphone back to his class, where he was met with applause from his students while protesters continued their activities outside.

While Charness seemed to receive the general support of his pupils, some student protestors were surprised by his actions. Third-year zoology major Zenaida Hernandez, who participated in the event, said he should be more supportive of student interests since he is a university faculty member.

“That man should be on our side,” Hernandez said. “His students are being affected, and their futures, although his future is in the past.”

Student Lobby will continue combating Congress’s elimination of the grace period by hosting other events and petitions. Flores said that such measures are necessary since the seriousness of student loan debt requires that the issue gain as much attention as possible.

“United States Student Association is currently working on a campaign against student debt, and as issues coordinator, I wanted to make sure this issue got more attention,” Flores said. “A lot of people have yet to hear about the cause but we’re not stopping here. This is not an issue to be taken lightly.”

According to third-year global studies major Lupe Zelada, not having a grace period may force many students planning to attend graduate school to have twice as much debt, since the debt from both institutions may accrue simultaneously.

“Students are going to have to start paying undergrad loans while they’re paying their grad school loans too,”

Zelada said. “Don’t let Congress privatize your education, your children’s education, and your children’s children’s education.”

UCSB alumna Mercedes Gonzales said the grace period is necessary because it allows one to adjust to post-graduation life as they first enter the job market.

“I graduated from here and those six months is barely enough time to even find a job,” Gonzalez said. “It’s very difficult with the economy and job market to find a job right out of college. Most jobs won’t even take you because you’re overqualified.”

Student Lobby will organize other events under the Fallen From Grace campaign, as Flores said educating a small number of students is better than not educating anyone at all.

“As long as we informed one person, our campaign continues on successfully,” Flores said. “This is only the beginning. You will definitely be hearing from us again.”


A version of this article appeared on page 1 of February 13th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.