On November 4, a group of student debtors and supporters disrupted business as usual at the Department of Education public hearing in Anaheim, CA. Current and former Corinthian college students who call themselves Everest Avengers (Everest, Heald and Wyotech are brands of Corinthian college) challenged the DOE to stop coddling for-profit colleges and predatory lenders and demanded full debt cancellation and free education.
Before the hearing began, members of Everest Avengers and supporters gathered to prepare their speeches and to share their stories with journalists documenting the day's events.
The group, some of whom had traveled thousands of miles, wore red squares throughout the day as a symbol of their unity.
At the hearing, students spoke passionately, and often angrily, to DOE officials. They described how they had been led into a debt trap by a corporation that targets low-income people, especially those who are single mothers and people of color.
Tasha Courtright, whose young child is disabled, explained in painful detail how Corinthian preyed on her dreams for a better life by making false promises that her investment in education would land her a well-paying job. "I was lied to. They stole money that I didn't even have," she said.
Latonya Suggs described a similarly distressing experience. She explained how Corinthian, with the support of the DOE, profited from her own dream of finding a career working with young people. At the end of her statement, Suggs drew cheers from the crowd as she returned her graduation cap to DOE officials, saying "you can have this cap back. I don't even want it." Watch the clip below:
As students testified throughout the afternoon, it became increasingly clear that the DOE, which is assisting Corinthian in its search for a buyer, is propping up a company whose only goal is to max out students' federal loans while shoveling cash to investors and executives.
As Everest Avenger Mackenzie Vasquez explained, "Corinthian College profits from poverty. They sold me a dream and gave me a nightmare."
Chris Miller is one of four members of his family who was caught in Corinthian’s trap. An army veteran, Miller earned a degree from Everest but has been unable to find a job. He challenged the DOE officials to discharge students’ debts. “Do you have any honor and dignity?” he asked Undersecretary Mitchell.
Near the end of the event, Debt Collective organizer, Karissa McKelvey, reminded the audience that Corinthian is not just a "bad apple," and all student debtors should join together to demand debt cancellation and free education. "Americans owe $1.3 trillion in student debt," McKelvey said. "Clearly the system is fundamentally broken."
After the hearing, Everest Avengers and supporters gathered at the Santa Ana Everest campus to stage a protest. They held signs demanding the closure of Corinthian and shared their stories with current Everest students.
Nathan Hornes, a co-founder of Everest Avengers who has $70,000 in debt and works two low-wage jobs, led the spirited demonstration. "We're all in the red," he called out defiantly. "We're all in this together!"
Whatever the result of the hearing, Corinthian students and supporters have shown that they have faith in themselves and in each other. They know this is the beginning of the struggle for a full debt discharge.
As Dawn Lueck, a former employee of Corinthian, said in her testimony, “we can no longer afford short-term solutions. We have to fight collectively.” And as Everest student Elva Munoz noted, “I know I am not alone. I know there are others in my situation.”
The Everest Avengers is part of a growing mobilization of people who are uniting behind a powerful idea: alone our debts are a burden; together they make us powerful.
Thousands of people, representing $72 million in debt, have already signed on to receive updates from the Debt Collective where we’re building a platform to challenge creditors, renegotiate payments, and even demand the cancellation of illegitimate debts. Join us.