And Everything You Need to Know About Your Power as a Student
By: Marcus Del Valle
Student government members, student activists and professors rallied together in Albany on March 2 to demand that elected officials support and invest in CUNY and SUNY campuses.
The coalition spent the day conducting legislative visits–which were coordinated by the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG)–which focused on the fight for lower tuition, improved infrastructure and increased overall investments across CUNY and SUNY
NYPIRG’s CSI chapter brought students from the College of Staten Island and Brooklyn College on a bus to Albany to meet with elected officials to give students the chance to voice their concerns about the conditions surrounding their campuses.
Student tuition in SUNY and CUNY campuses has increased by $300 per student five times in the past six years. Recently the increases have ceased with the higher tuition being frozen in place. Students joined the front lines of the fight against current tuition prices. Many students spoke to legislators about their struggles to pay tuition.
Concerns about CUNY’s tuition varied. Testimonies came in the form of short snippets of personal experiences and questions on how to affect change. Elected officials resoundingly agreed: “by affecting local governments.”
The Dream Act was also a priority for many during conversations with elected officials. Assemblymen and Senators had split feelings on the act and veered away from the conversation quickly, according to students in the meeting.
Many CUNY and SUNY colleges have been experiencing intense issues with infrastructure on some of the more sprawling campuses.
CSI students mentioned the potholes on the loop road and parking lots and the lack of accessibility to buildings for disabled students. Students told legislators about broken bathroom stalls and napkin dispensers, walkways prone to flooding and roads that force drivers into unsatisfactory conditions.
In Albany, a coalition of fired up student government representatives and professors from all over CUNY and SUNY rallied attendees with positive banter and call and response cheers before releasing students to state their demands. Students were divided into several groups and lead to the offices of Senators and Assemblymen to voice these demands.
While there was much support coming from the CUNY and SUNY constituents – professors and the combined student governments – responses varied amongst the elected officials depending on the issue. Some legislators weren’t in their office and conversations were held with legislative aides whom, for the most part, could not make any official comments on behalf of their leaders.
A group, led by Chidi Duke of the CSI NYPIRG chapter, had four meetings scheduled where they advocated for their demands and told legislators about their personal narratives.The group met with Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, Senator Kathleen Marchione, Assemblyman Matthew Titone, and finally Senator Andrew Lanza.
Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, a Democrat, had nothing but praise for student activists and resounding support for all issues and student concerns. She is in support of lower tuition by $225 per student and creating more investments for student work opportunities and class variation. As well, she supports student teaching hospitals and the Dream Act.
On the other hand, State Senator Kathleen Marchione had nothing to say to students. Her assistant, Patrick, who greeted NYPIRG and students because of the Senator’s absence, expressed that she would be out for too long to answer questions. Midway through the meeting the Senator walked into the room, passed the students and into her private study without saying a word to NYPIRG or any of the students in her office.
Assemblyman Matthew Titone was also not available and the intern, who has been working there for several months, said that he has never met him. He advised that a Google search of his local Staten Island office, followed by a knock on the door, would be the most effective way of getting to him.
Senator Andrew Lanza was in a meeting when students first approached and his Chief of Staff spoke with students until Senator Lanza could step out of the meeting. Lanza expressed that he was also in support of most issues spoken about. He stated however that he does not believe in the Dream Act.
“Why should anyone here illegally get benefits that some of our own citizens cannot?” Lanza said.
Upon arriving in Albany at the rally to fire up students before making their demands, there was much talk about the importance of students understanding their power and what kind of change they can make when they come together. At the end of the rally before students were off to fight the good fight this was said:
“The change you seek is you. The change you seek is us.”