Toronto The Other Face : An Open Letter to the Haters of Free Tuition Bill
Before I begin, this is not a political piece. It is not about the policy plan itself, how it will be managed, or whether it makes sense. It is about the reaction.
In the past week it was announced by the Ontario government that students who came from households earning under $50,000 yearly would have access to free university tuition. This announcement created a massive dialogue from all players Involved. As with everything, the internet lost its mind.
Some were overwhelmed by joy, while others were devastated to find out from their parents that their family earned $51,000 yearly. There were even cries of despair coming from people who would have fallen into that income bracket if only the policy had been in place when they were students. Sorry folks—the chances of getting your money back are less than Mexico actually paying for “the wall”.
This letter is not for any of those groups of people. No. it is for the haters out there. The people who immediately spewed their hate on social media, calling the lower-income bracket “lazy”, “greedy”, “welfare grabbers”, etc. So haters, listen up, perhaps you will learn something.
Before I start, yes I know, Ontario is more than just Toronto, but I am speaking on behalf of a place I know and understand. I grew up in Toronto, and went to York University. In my years there, paying thousands of dollars for tuition and hundreds more for textbooks, I grew increasingly upset with my financial situation. I spent the final two years of my degree working almost full time, on top of being a full-time student. I did this in order to have money to accomplish my dream of studying to work internationally in the humanitarian field. I worked in restaurants, cafes, the ACC, BMO Field, everywhere, you name it. Having done that, I still came out with debt that will take me years to pay off.
But here is the important part; I was part of the privileged. We earned more than $50,000. I used my money to accomplish my dreams, not to put bread on the table. I never had to pay rent since I lived with my parents. Food was often either covered by my family, or the bar I worked at. I never had to pay for utilities. I had no children, and no dependents. No one in my family was an addict, disabled, sick, or mentally ill, and I had full mental and physical health. Everything was on my side. What if even one of those factors was against me? What would I have done?
I remember one of my classmates. She was the first in her family to ever attend university. She would finish school, and go immediately to work, day in and day out. Exam times were a nightmare for her; panic attacks and nervous breakdowns overshadowed any joy of being a student. I thought the burden of being covered in debt and working full-time would eventually cause her to snap, but she stayed strong and I am sure she is filled with pride for what she has accomplished. But again, what if one more factor had gone against her?
I now live in Europe; it is much cheaper for me to continue studying here. The reactions I see when I mention my debt are incredible, but one story stands out in my mind. I had been given a $200 tax return by the government, and I came running downstairs overwhelmed with joy. “The government gave me $200 guys!” I shouted. My roommate’s reaction after that will stick with me, “That’s it? What the hell are you supposed to do with that? That doesn’t even cover your rent!” I stood there and looked at my roommates stunned about how different our university experiences had been financially.
Here’s where I get to the point. Toronto is an extremely wealthy city. You can see it everywhere. Take a walk down Queen Street and all you see are people shopping. York dale is fancier than ever, but that hasn’t slowed business down. I used to see this wealth personally. I would clean tables at a bar and see the bills. $150 spent on drinks between friends; just like that.
The Greater Toronto Area is big… 5 million people big. Thursday nights at the Madison House, Friday night house parties up in Lawrence Park, only to end it with a weekend at the cottage, but that is only one side of the picture. The other side spends Thursday working the night shift making kebabs, Friday night in Lawrence Heights, and the weekend wondering if No Frills will have a sale on their bread.
So to all the ignorant people who decided to attack the thousands of people struggling financially in our city, remember this for next time. Being able to comfortably pay for university doesn’t make you special, superior, or a better person. It makes you privileged, a privilege that many others do not have.