Hamline professor David Davies joins the "99 Percent" with letter on student debt

David Davies' letter has gone viral on Facebook.
David Davies' letter has gone viral on Facebook.

David Davies is a professor of East Asian studies at Hamline University. Or, at least, that's what he was yesterday. This morning, Davies woke up to find he'd become an internet sensation, and the new Minnesota face of the "We Are the 99 Percent" movement.

Davies's contribution was a letter modeled after those on the "We Are the 99 Percent" website, in which protest sympathizers take a picture of themselves holding a letter with their take on an issue. After the website didn't post his letter, Davies simply threw it on his Facebook page.

Monday morning, it had 10 Facebook shares. Yesterday it had about 30 shares.

This morning, Davies woke up to find that his posting had hit the tipping point: As of this writing, it's been shared more than 1,200 times.

"I'm absolutely flabbergasted," Davies told City Pages. 

"I thought I just wanted to add my voice. And it just so hapened that what I said, a lot of people are saying, 'Yeah, that's what I was thinking.'"

Here, for easier reading, is the larger version of Davies's letter.

Hamline professor David Davies joins the "99 Percent" with letter on student debt

Davies said he was inspired to contribute his letter after reading through some of the postings on the We Are 99 Percent Tumblr feed, which he found "pretty moving," especially when he noticed a lot of college students among the contributors.

But more than that, Davies was writing from his own personal experience in dealing with students at Hamline.

"In my class, I talk about the power of debt to reduce freedom, the way that debt restricts people's opportunities and limits their choices," Davies said. 

In recent years, that conversation has shifted from students talking about debt in the Third World and developing countries, to students sharing fears about the debt they're picking up while they're in college. 

In his own case, Davies attended Hamline in the 1980s and then went on to graduate school. Davies said he benefited greatly from attending a private college, but he couldn't have done it without low-interest loans provided by the government. Davies incurred debt in paying for his tuition, but was also able to finance a significant part of his tuition with government-backed Pell Grants, which he said are increasingly sparse compared to tuition costs.

"Some time since the '80s," Davies said, "it's become private debt for a private investment. It's even seen as, quote, 'good debt.'"

Davies continued, "The monetization of college really narrows the freedoms of students to choose what they do after graduation."

Davies said he's "a little uncomfortable" being entirely lumped in with the Occupy protesters, but is both "shocked" and thrilled at the response the letter's gotten from students -- both nationally, and, perhaps especially, his own.

"The students have really humbled me with their comments," he said. "They really have been supportive in a way that I -- it's really clear that this resonates with them. And to have a professor say this meant something to them."

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