It’s not every day that a Mason undergraduate joins prominent US Senators for a breakfast meeting that is covered in the Washington Post. On February 3, senior Kalia Harris (2016, community health) did just that, and from her place next to Senator Tim Kaine, called for action on the issue of college affordability.
Harris, originally from Richmond, knows firsthand the obstacles to enter, let alone afford, college. Harris’ parents did not attend college, yet emphasized the importance of a college degree to both Harris and her younger brother. Her mother and father worked multiple jobs and moved several times to access a better education for their children.
Despite all their work, and Harris’ own efforts working three and even four jobs during the school year, she will still graduate with sizable college loans. Since enrolling in Mason, Harris has always worried about paying her next tuition bill, or missed critical enrollment dates as she waited for paychecks to arrive to cover tuition payments.
Harris previously spoke about the growing problems with college affordability at a roundtable hosted in October by Virginia state representative Marcus Simon. At the event, Harris drew the attention of organizers from the advocacy group Higher Ed, Not Debt, who later requested her participation in this week’s Democratic Steering Committee breakfast, at which college affordability was the primary focus.
Speaking in front of a group of US senators was intimidating but Harris said, “I was nervous but excited. The best I could do was to know my own truth. This is my story and this is why higher education is important.”
Since her arrival at Mason, Harris has been a strong advocate for those who are underrepresented. Through her work with GMU Student Power, Harris advocates for a freeze on Mason’s tuition and additional funding to be made available for emergency support of students who would be forced to leave Mason because they cannot afford tuition.
Harris is also active in the black community and and works for Social Action and Integrative Learning (SAIL) as the Alternative Breaks assistant. At Mason, SAIL organizes alternative break programs through which students volunteer to work with communities around the nation and world to address social issues that affect them. Harris, along with other students in the Native American and Indigenous Alliance, is working to encourage Mason administration to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, rather than Columbus Day, in mid-October.
February 10, 2016