New Tax Laws Will Hit Lehman Students Hard

By Thomas Behnke

The proposed tax bill would take away interest deduction on all student loans. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“It’s not fair,” Erica Mejia, a Lehman senior, said. “My family made just too much [for me] to qualify for aid, so it’s all on me. It’s bad enough we have to go into debt to get an education. Now even the little breaks are being taken away.”

Mejia was lamenting the passage of the Trump administration’s wildly unpopular tax plan, passed by the Republican Senate in the early hours of the morning on Dec. 2. Experts say the bill will make students’ lives harder and their pockets emptier. While it raises taxes for the middle- and lower-classes, it gives substantial breaks to large corporations and the wealthiest in the nation.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates it will add over a trillion dollars to the deficit.

Particularly hard on students are provisions within the bill that eliminate any deductions on student loan interest. According to The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS), “Seven in 10 seniors (69%) who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in 2014 had student loan debt, with an average of $28,950 per borrower.” The site lists New York student debt as slightly below the national average ($27,842). The Department of Education’s Federal Student Loan page lists interest on federal loans ranging from four to seven percent. Interest paid over the life of a loan --  typically 10 years -- can be from $4000 to over $11,000.

A Quinnipiac poll reports nationwide approval of the tax plan at just 29 percent. Lehman students voiced their disapproval of it as well.

“How are we supposed to pay these loans when they are raising our taxes, and eliminating deductions?” Meija said. “I’m going to have a degree, but I’m not making a hundred grand out of the gate.”

“I don’t think this administration is interested in public education at all,” Jose Areas, a Lehman sophomore, said. “They aren’t interested in people who aren’t like them, who don’t have the means.”  Areas’ brother is currently paying off over $45,000 in loans and is working as a commercial mover.  “He worked full-time and went to school, too. He got his degree and, really what he should be doing is internships, but three months after he graduated, bang, there’s a bill in the mail. He can’t afford not to get paid.”

Citizens protest GOP tax bill. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Forbes Magazine reported CBO statistics for the tax bill. By 2019, people earning less than $30,000 will be paying almost $10,000 more toward the budget deficit in either increased taxes or decreased services. The bill has provisions in it to end mandatory health insurance requirements, which the CBO reports will ultimately cause insurance premiums to skyrocket.

Gabriel Garcia, a junior at Lehman put it succinctly, “I’m graduating in 2019. Last election was the first one I could vote in. I didn’t have a say in the mismanagement of the government’s money. I didn’t give millions of dollars to corporations who ran to the Bahamas with their profits. I know I have to pay back my loans, but how am I responsible for the rest of the government’s debts?”

Bronx Success Story Ends in Tragedy

By Zoe Fanzo

Lowell Hawthorne, Golden Krust founder and CEO. Photo courtesy of Facebook.

“He was the quintessential Lehman student -- determined and dedicated to his family and community,” President José Luis Cruz said in a statement mourning the loss of Lowell Hawthorne, founder and CEO of Golden Krust Bakery & Grill, and a 2016 Lehman graduate. He also called Hawthorne “an icon of the Bronx, the borough in which he launched his extraordinarily successful company.”

Hawthorne, 57, committed suicide on Dec. 2 inside his Golden Krust Bakery and warehouse in the Bronx. The New York Post reported that Hawthorne had evaded millions of dollars in taxes and feared the implications of a federal investigation. According to a family member, in the hours before his suicide Hawthorne was exhibiting strange behavior and “talking to himself.”

Born in Jamaica, Hawthorne came to the Bronx in 1981 and studied at Bronx Community College, later working as an accountant with the New York Police Department. In 1989, he opened the first Golden Krust Bakery on Gun Hill Road, using money that his family pooled together after he was refused a bank loan.  When he graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in business administration, he served as a student speaker at the commencement ceremony. Today, his fast-food empire has more than 120 locations in the U.S., selling its beef patties to more than 20,000 supermarkets, various school systems, the penal system, and the U.S. military.

The death of Hawthorne and the tragic ending to his Bronx success story has the Lehman community reeling.

“I always react when I hear about suicide, especially because of the lack of access to help. Mental illness is so important to talk about and represent, but there are so many cultural and racial stigmas that it should be repressed or remain unspoken,” said Lehman senior Mena McCarthy, an English literature major, and chemistry and biology double minor, in reaction to Hawthorne’s suicide.

Al Alston, a friend of Hawthorne and owner of a Golden Krust Bakery in Queens stated that his death was “more than unexpected -- it's out of character,” according to the New York Post. Alston described Hawthorne as “an upbeat guy,” and called his passing a “tragic loss.”    

The Golden Krust company released a statement the day following his death, affirming, “Our hearts are broken, and we are struggling to process our grief over this tremendous loss. Lowell was a visionary, entrepreneur, community champion, and above all a committed father, family man, friend and man of faith.”

Lehman Students Anguished by Libyan Slave Trade

By Shaiann Frazier

West African migrants are prime targets for Libyan slave traders. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“As an African, I feel those who have been taken into slavery are my brothers and sisters,” said Felix Mwake, 32, a teacher at Lehman’s Child Care Center. Mwake, who was born and raised in Kenya, was referring to the slave trade in Libya, where migrants and refugees -- mostly young people from sub-Saharan countries -- are being sold as farm laborers via the same smugglers who brought them illegally into the country.

After CNN footage surfaced in November showing two young Nigerian men being sold as farm laborers for $400 a piece in the city of Tripoli, many reacted with disbelief. For Americans, these slave auctions are reminiscent of those that plagued the Americas centuries ago, when Africans were taken from their homeland and forced into slave labor.

However, many Lehman students told the Meridian that they are deeply distressed, but not surprised, by the news of this new slave market. Tashana Allen, 23, a political science major, said, “What is going on in Libya is very heartbreaking. To see that many West Africans are not only hoping for a better life, but are willing to journey across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe, then to be denied their right to life is beyond devastating.”

As a result of increasing cooperation between the EU and the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) inTripoli, the number of migrant arrivals in Europe has dropped dramatically. From August to October, arrivals in Italy, the main entry point, have dropped by more than 8 percent. This has resulted in hundreds of thousands of migrants getting trapped in Libya, where they are exposed to human rights abuses. In a report released by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), at least 2,500 refugees and migrants died in the beginning of 2017 compared to the 3,262 refugees who had died the previous year. The report also stated that the rate of mortality would be one death for every 50 people who make it to Italy.

In a 2016 report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the likelihood of dying en route between Libya and Italy was one in 23. Currently, 47,000 migrants have reached Italy from countries such as Senegal, Nigeria, and Gambia.

According to a report published in August of 2017 by the IOM, migrants from Niger are the most represented nationality, with 59,000 en route to Libya. Migrants from Chad are close behind, numbering 49,000.  All of them face the possibility of being auctioned off into forced labor.

Many commentators blame the current slave trade in Libya to the violent ousting of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, and the instability that followed his death. In October of 2011 he was killed following the NATO bombing of Libya. Fleeing from poverty and violence, many traveled the route to Libya in hopes of a better life. According to a 2017 report released by the IOM, 91 percent of sub-Saharan Africans who left their home countries did so for economic reasons.

Lehman student Safiatou Diallo, 21, a computer science major also said, “I’m not surprised…. North Africans have always been racist to Black Africans.”

However, once migrants are freed either by paying off smugglers or through UN organizations that help previously enslaved migrants, they are placed in refugee camps or detention centers. These centers are facilitated under deplorable conditions with many dying from malnutrition and disease. They are often run by corrupt militia groups who subject the migrants to routine beatings, sometimes even resulting in death, in exchange for money. A 2017 report published by Amnesty International said that of the 72 refugee camps, 30 camps had been facilitated by armed groups of criminal gangs.

Lehman students agreed that the issue deserves more public attention in the US. Genaro Perez, 21, a Lehman student and anthropology major said, “I think the issue should be talked about more and ironically maybe we [the U.S] or the UN should get involved. “It’s definitely a large humanitarian issue and one that we should not allow to flourish.”

Anel Vicente, 31, a early childhood teacher at Lehman’s child daycare who is also a minister at the House of Prayer in Times Square, also felt the impact close to home. “It affects me indirectly because a lot of the people that I have friendships or relationships with even the people that I minister are impacted by this. How do we make this stop [the Slave Trade] so that it never actually happens again?”

Mwake concurred, saying, “African leaders …need to go into Libya, stop this, get those who are already esnslaved, bring them back to their countries and give them opportunities.”