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Students Join ‘Up to Us’ Campaign to Address National Debt

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Pictured are Paul Shaw, Sordum Ndam, faculty adviser Dr. Colin Cannonier, Lindsay Bond-Harris and Jawon Taylor.

Five Belmont sophomores are working hard this month to build a movement to address the national debt, a figure that currently stands at over $17 trillion. Belmont “Up to Us”  formed last fall when the five students–Paul Shaw (international business), Jawon Taylor (political science), Sordum Ndam (political science), Olivia Nishi (corporate communications) and Lindsay Bond-Harris (music business)–applied to participate in the national Up to Us competition, which is sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) and Net Impact. The Belmont team was selected as one of 25 teams nationwide and is competing against teams from Duke, Cal State-Fullerton, Northwestern, Oklahoma State, Rice, George Washington and New York University, among others, with the contest set to end this Friday, Feb. 21.

The group was first interested in the competition as a means to have hands-on experience in a campaign that would benefit their diverse studies in political science, business and communications. However, this campaign has hit a nerve for all of them. Noting that $17 trillion is a difficult figure to grasp and contextualize, Ndam said, “You start telling people how serious this is, and the more you repeat these facts, the more you begin to realize how truly serious an issue it is… I’m afraid of the uncertainty of it all.”

“We want people to be thinking about the national debt and get discussion going,” said Bond-Harris. “We’re not asking for answers, but we do want people to get involved in finding answers.”

To date, members have focused efforts on raising awareness through a variety of events, including a Feb. 14 convo led by Asian Studies/Chinese professor Dr. Joan Li on China’s role in the U.S. debt. Tonight in Neely Dining Hall, the team, in  partnership with Student Activities Program Board, will hold a “Clocked In” dance in which performances by two bands and a deejay will be interspersed with information on how much the national debt has grown through the course of the evening. Then, on Wednesday, Belmont “Up to Us” partners with history professor Dr. Pete Kuryla in a convo on “Debt in American Culture.” All of these events seek to challenge to increase engagement among their peers on the nation’s long-term fiscal path.

The team added that they believe it’s important for their generation to start pondering solutions now. Bond-Harris said, “I do think if it gets bad enough, people will find an answer, but the stress of it all will lead to irrational solutions rather than thinking logically about it. Making a decision under that sort of stress could have even worse consequences.”

“It really is up to us how it happens,” said Shaw.

In addition to the events on campus, Belmont’s “Up to Us” team has partnered with the team from University of Tennessee-Knoxville to petition the state’s Congressional representatives and has established a Facebook page and quiz to further increase awareness. They also provided an informational table at a basketball game on campus last week and plan to do so again this week.

A panel of distinguished judges will judge all 25 teams on their effectiveness at raising awareness, increasing personal connections and inspiring action on campus and beyond. The winning team will be awarded a $10,000 cash prize, in addition to being recognized by President Clinton at CGI U 2014.

“These students are among America’s best and brightest and they have an important voice in the conversation about our nation’s fiscal future,” said Pete Peterson, founder and Chairman of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation. “After all, it’s their generation that will be affected by decisions we make, or fail to make, about our long-term debt.”

About Up to Us
Up to Us, a nationwide campus competition sponsored and managed by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative University and Net Impact, provides an opportunity for students to build a movement to raise awareness and engagement on America’s long-term fiscal and economic challenges. Twenty-five student teams selected from across the country compete to design and run thought-provoking, fun and impactful campaigns around the effects of rising debt on economic opportunity and investment in the future.

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