About 20 students packed a small room in the basement of James Hall last Thursday to re-cap a recent trip to Albany where they met with elected officials, discussed individual campaigns and strategized their next move.
0302 James Hall is the official office for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), a statewide organization dedicated to achieving sustainable change. Last month on Thursday, Feb. 25, the group focused on the higher education campaign by loading a bus full of students, faculty and staff, and heading to Albany to lobby against tuition hikes, specifically the SUNY 2020 law. If approved the SUNY 2020 will allow for tuition increases for all CUNY students over the next five years.
On the day of the Albany trip students boarded the bus around 6:30 a.m. joined by the College of Staten Island. According to Meagan Wills, a senior and a NYPIRG team leader, while on the bus the group reviewed the agenda, did a breakdown of their goals and went over the legislation. Once they arrived in Albany, their first move was a rally with about 20 other organizations before breaking off into groups and speaking directly with elected officials. As a team leader, Wills was responsible for facilitating the conversations with electeds and ensuring students stayed on topic and focused.
“It was a really cool experience to actually have the opportunity as students to go and sit face to face with electeds,” Wills said. Wills was particularly excited to speak with assemblywoman Diana Richardson whose district includes East Flatbush and surrounding areas in Brooklyn.
“Voting is one thing and going there and being proactive, it’s really cool,” added Wills after noting that assemblywoman Richardson seemed to be “pro higher education” and “pro student”.
Other students found a disconnect from the state legislators which was concerning because state decisions affect city schools.
“I found it kind of interesting that a lot of the people I spoke to said that the meeting with the city legislators went better than with the state,” said Felicia Villacres, a senior at Brooklyn College who joined in the Albany trip.
“We need these politicians to take it a step further,” added Villacres.
Students also discussed another rally planned with other groups that will be held this Thursday at Governor Cuomo’s office.
In addition to the higher education campaign, NYPIRG also hosts various other initiatives that focus on issues such as hunger and homelessness, consumer / environmental protection, voter registration and improvement of mass transition (especially at Brooklyn College).
Thursday’s meeting in the NYPIRG office lasted about an hour and ended with the individual campaigns breaking into groups and following up with planning sessions. The hunger and homelessness campaign are working on a food drive scheduled to happen in April. The higher education campaign will continue focusing getting the word out about the SUNY 2020 law. The budget (funding for CUNY and SUNY) will not be finalized until April this year and the campaign is “trying to get as much influence as possible before then,” according to Susan Thomas, a junior at the college and one of the project’s leading interns for the higher education campaign. As a project leading intern, Thomas is in charge of raising awareness on campus and keeping students informed on the relevance of the issues.