Excerpted from 2015 Spring Newsletter
STCC PHENOM Chapter by Juhi Dasrath
Springfield Technical Community College’s campus chapter had the great opportunity to be a part of Advocacy Day, where we addressed our concerns about making higher education more affordable and accessible for college students.
We started making waves by taking small strokes on our campus—organizing an event where students, faculty and staff were all invited to support PHENOM by simply signing their names on a letter, which we would present to the Secretary of Education on March 4th. Our letter gained the support of over 300 campus members!
The event was a huge success which immensely encouraged students to join the new STCC PHENOM Campus Chapter on our trip to Boston. The opportunity to present the letter to Secretary Peyser on behalf of STCC students did not only represent what we as students believe on our campus but that piece of paper was a small step which represented what ALL college students believe: Education is a right, not a privilege! Therefore there should be more steps taken to make higher education more affordable for the students working towards bettering themselves and our country. We were able to voice this at our meeting with the Secretary.
Our campus event has created ripples on other campuses throughout Massachusetts. With this momentum we are guaranteed to wake the sleeping giant and make PHENOMenal changes to the system.
Student organizer Amy Blanchette describes her activities at Bristol Community College
After such a terrible winter with so many missed classes, we decided that the Bristol Community College PHENOM Chapter could make a bigger impact by staying on campus on March 4, 2015, Public Higher Education Advocacy Day. Instead of traveling to the State House, we set up call-in stations for fellow BCC campus members. Eight students at the Fall River Campus managed tables at two locations—the Commonwealth College Center and the Library. Throughout the day, we helped 50 advocates email or call their State Representatives and State Senators. We also used this opportunity to educate the BCC campus about PHENOM and Bristol’s new campus chapter. It was tricky to get the students to listen, at times, but we saw a good amount of advocacy for the foot traffic that we had. (We made the strategic use of candy).
There will be more tabling in April, to continue targeting legislators as the FY16 budget moves through the House of Representatives and the Senate. As a student organizer, my goal is for the advocacy numbers to get stronger and stronger. A petition would be beneficial, modeled on the work of the chapter at Springfield Technical Community College, so I will be working on the language as well as upcoming action.
UMass Dartmouth PHENOM Chapter
On November 17, 2014, the UMass Dartmouth Chapter of PHENOM screened “Precious Knowledge” in collaboration with the Frederick Douglas Unity House. This film chronicles the civil rights battle waged by Tuscon AZ high school students and their teachers to save ethnic studies classes. More than 150 UMD community members attended and there was only standing room by the end. The event was even more successful thanks to the cosponsorship by a number of Academic Departments, including Sociology & Anthropology, Women and Gender Studies, Portuguese, Crime and Justice Studies, and STEM Education and Teacher Development.
Student organizer Joel Spiegel describes his activities at UMass Amherst
On a cold late February day, students, faculty, and community members met up in the UMass Amherst Student Union for a teach-in. It began with a handful of powerful speakers, talking about student debt and its incredible impacts on their lives. Students told powerful stories of missing out on very important opportunities because of their student debt.
The teach-in also featured graduate student Anastasia Wilson who presented her in-depth research on the economic impacts of student debt in the Commonwealth.
One figure that really stuck with me was that over 2.5 billion dollars of foregone consumer spending exists every year in Massachusetts. That means that people are not contributing to the economy—and in a huge way—with dollars that could grease the wheels of some of our state’s rusted industry. Not to mention countless jobs that could have been created if people with overwhelming student debt could have the money to start new businesses or make purchases in our state. It also means that there are millions of dollars in foregone tax money, funds that could provide for social services. Anastasia’s research really brings up an argument that isn’t always talked about, that we need more accessible and affordable, quality public higher education as a way to succeed financially.
In preparation for the Public Higher Education Advocacy Day on March 4th, the second half of the teach-in featured a training on how to lobby. Led by student leaders, there was a demonstration on the basics of legislative advocacy, and then participants broke into smaller groups. Each small group had a seasoned lobbyist who offered guidance. I fully believe that the teach-in helped prepare UMass participants for Advocacy Day events in Boston.
The success of the teach-in was possible because of many months of planning. Representing PHENOM along with Clare Hammonds, I participated in planning sessions along with student advocacy groups including: the Center for Education Policy Advocacy (CEPA), the UMass chapter of the Public Interest Research Group (MassPIRG), and the Student Government Association. This coalition building will be one of my biggest tools moving forward as I mobilize students on campus to fight for their right to accessible and affordable higher education.