Made by Students for Students: How a Campus Advocacy Group Takes on Pressing Issues

Student’s names and posters can be seen all around the NYPIRG office, located at Thomas Hunter 115.

Crumbling buildings, underpaid adjuncts, and canceled classes: the past year has proven to be a stressful one for all the colleges in the City University of New York system across the five boroughs. 

But to some students, like Hunter College’s New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), CUNY’s often dire situation is motivation to look for ways to inspire change. 

When New York City Mayor Eric Adams, who graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, announced a $23 million funding cut to the CUNY budget in November, the effect of the five percent  budget cut were swift; 26 substitute Queens College faculty members were laid off at the beginning of the semester. Furthermore, many CUNY buildings need a thorough revamp, as only eight percent of CUNY buildings are labeled to be in a “state of  good repair.” 

As these budget cuts roll in, paired with a 17 percent decrease in enrollment, NYPIRG sprang into action. 

NYPIRG, alongside other groups like the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), traveled to Albany on Feb. 28 for Higher Education Action Day. The annual event is targeted at pushing greater funding for higher education to the state’s fiscal year budget.

The group’s attendance at Higher Education Action Day is a culmination of a much larger effort by the student group throughout the year. Advocating for student voices, the group has helped organize a “Higher Education Storybank,” which features both CUNY and State University of New York students’ personal anecdotes on how funding has allowed them to fulfill their goals. 

To Higher Education Issue Coordinator Ayesha Schmitt, action days like these are what keep younger adults involved in a field dominated by older adults– the average age of an American senator is 64 years old.  

“We’re here to educate students who have a budding interest in politics,” Schmitt said. “ We campaign for issues with politicians ,regardless of political affiliation, helping students get involved in local government where they have the most influence.”

Since its inception in 1973, NYPIRG has served as a statewide not-for-profit and non-partisan student-led group, advocating for various social justice issues. Run by students, the organization provides internships and board positions to students from various CUNYs and SUNYs. 

“We have educated hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” their website mission statement reads, “and recruited tens of thousands of community-based members from all parts of the state.”

Hunter NYPIRG students and interns at the Student Empowerment Conference at SUNY Purchase (PC credit: Hunter NYPIRG).

Students involved in NYPIRG are exposed to opportunities that allow them to network, practice their public speaking skills, and build a strong foundation in advocacy. On March 9, Coordinator Schmitt and her team of students went to NYPIRG’s Student Empowerment Conference, where they attended workshops and discussions on grassroots organizing. 

Back at Hunter, in recognition of Women’s History Month, NYPIRG is working on their hygiene product drive, where they collect menstrual products from college students to be donated to homeless shelters. To celebrate the end of the drive and educate students on the importance of access to hygiene products, NYPIRG will be hosting an event on April 2.  

These exact opportunities are what motivated Political Science Professor Carolyn Somerville to take on the role as the NYPIRG faculty internship supervisor.    

“To me, internships are foreign languages, they enhance our life,” Dr. Somerville said. “It [NYPIRG] elevates students’ learning, their recognition of important issues, and increases student activism which they can take into the workplace after they leave Hunter.”

On campus, NYPIRG interns float around campus educating their peers in both the classroom and the sky bridge on the importance of issues, like voting and climate change, and encouraging their peers to sign up to vote, guiding them through the process. 

Speaking with students and collecting signatures for their petitions, the group has developed a list of demands and a petition for state government for a new student budget, which includes an overhaul of the Tuition Assistance Program, amongst other things. 

“Personally, I find NYPIRG an important resource on campus,” says Umida Ubay, a Biology major at Hunter College. “I find myself confused on CUNY related news, and I find their presentations in my classes to be helpful [to] understanding what’s happening with funding.”

Students who are interested in getting involved are invited to attend NYPIRG’s weekly chapter meetings on Tuesdays at 2:30pm at TH115, and can do so by RSVPing here

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