Fine Print:
A Series of Lecture Demonstrations on Student Loan Debt

BFAMFAPhD / Vicky Virgin, 2019

Student loan debt has more than doubled in the last decade, eclipsing almost every other kind of consumer debt in the United States, including credit card debt. Some experts are referring to this crisis as the next housing bubble. And while hedge fund managers speculate over the collapse of the student loan market, students themselves are crushed under the psychic burdens of their debts and the dizzying options their government offers for repayment.

Vicky Virgin’s three-part series of lecture demonstrations, Fine Print, probes the absurdity of student loan agreements through precise choreography, carefully-chosen locations and the almost indecipherable linguistics of loan contracts themselves.

Harnessing the glossary of loan terms used in Susan Jahoda’s …in which nothing can be finally paid off, Virgin’s work explores the arbitrary calculus used to measure a student’s innate worthiness of assistance, the concept of hardship, and financial stress. The result is a sly primer on systemic toxicity.

The movement thread throughout Fine Print is a simple arm dance:  an accumulation of shapes that reference the grid of a bar chart of categorical data. The relentless rhythm of a metronome and the precision of these arm movements conjure a military drill, or the numbing drills of a learning tradition in which a teacher stands in front of a formation of students and dictates what they should learn and the manner in which they should learn it. The evolution of the arm-dancers—from lying on the floor, to sitting, to marching—hints at momentum and transformation, despite a repressive system.

The location of each lecture demonstration—and the manner in which each space was acquired for the project—was chosen to reflect the tension between pedagogy and capitalism. #1 Forgiveness is set in a dance studio created by a volunteer community of dancers inside an historic Brooklyn church. Virgin bartered her Excel spreadsheet skills for the cost of the rental. #2 Partial Financial Hardship is set in an art studio at City As School, the oldest alternative high school in the country, a school whose progressive pedagogy challenges the student-as-vessel status quo.  #3 Default is set outside the New York Stock Exchange, the heart of the world markets, in Zucotti Park, birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement; and inside the Occulus, the mall-as-monument on the site of the new World Trade Center. At these archetypal financial landmarks, the project comes full circle: the dancers’ drill marks time the way an indebted student marks time, in incremental payments, hostage to the big banks.

Finally, Virgin’s Fine Print seeks to build a community. In merging long-time friends from her personal dance community with young dancers new to New York, all committed to various arms of social justice, and in bartering home-cooked meals, wild honey, brain massages and social outings in exchange for labor, Virgin used the project to spark conversations and deepen connections. Follow her Arm Dance Movement on Facebook.

Lecture Demonstration #1: Forgiveness Certain circumstances, such as permanent disability, death, bankruptcy, and public service may qualify you to have your loans forgiven, cancelled, or discharged. In addition, if you qualify for one of the following circumstances, you are no longer required to make payments on your student loans: your school admitted you even though you did not have the ability to benefit from the coursework, your school falsely certified your qualifying status, your school falsely signed your promissory note, someone was convicted of stealing your identity and fraudulently taking out a loan in your name that you did not benefit from, your school owes your lender a refund.

Lecture Demonstration #2: Partial Financial Hardship An eligibility requirement for the Income-Based Repayment and Pay As You Earn plans. Income-Based Repayment is defined as a circumstance in which the annual amount due on eligible loans, (as calculated under a ten-year Standard Repayment Plan ), exceeds fifteen percent of the difference between your adjusted gross income and one hundred and fifty percent of the poverty line for your family size in the state where you live. Pay as you Earn is defined as a circumstance in which the annual amount due on your eligible loans, (as calculated under a ten-year Standard Repayment Plan), exceeds ten percent of the difference between your adjusted gross income and one hundred and fifty percent of the poverty line for your family size in the state where you live. For both plans, the amount due under a ten-year Standard Repayment Plan is calculated based on the greater of the amount owed on your eligible loans when you originally entered repayment, or the amount owed at the time you selected the Income-Based Repayment Plan or Pay As You Earn plan.

Lecture Demonstration #3: Default Failure to repay a loan based on the terms agreed to in the promissory note. For most federal student loans, you will default if you have not made a payment in more than two hundred and seventy days. You may experience serious legal consequences if you default. Your lender is required to report the default to at least one national credit bureau. If you default on your account, your lender may sell your debt to another company or collection agency. If that happens, you could be responsible for a different, and higher rate.