Every spring semester, hundreds of CUNY and SUNY students from different corners of New York travel to the State Capitol for Higher Education Action Day. It’s a day dedicated for students to share their desire for higher education affordability, a cornerstone of the New York Public Interest Research Group’s agenda.
NYPIRG, along with other CUNY and SUNY faculty and student organizations, brought students to Albany on March 2 to lobby their legislators. The event was scheduled over a week before discussions to decide on the proposed state budget.
“My main goal is to push our legislators to have our interests first,” Levi Castle, a freshman at Queens College, said.
Castle works as an intern for NYPIRG and this year’s Higher Education Action Day was his first. He is the project leader for higher education affordability and worked to recruit people to go up to Albany for Higher Education Action Day.
Castle was inspired by the number of students that came along to support even though they may not be personally affected.
“Even if this issue isn’t affecting you directly, it’s affecting your peers and people you care about,” Castle said.
The event also changed his perspective on the democratic political system.
“It definitely just reinstated in me that motivation to get organized and be a part of the system,” Castle said. “It gave me hope into the governmental and political system we have.”
Castle was not the only student becoming active in politics for the first time.
“It seemed like a bigger movement than it was in previous years,” Brentton Ruiz, a senior at Queens College, said. “It seems like every year it’s getting bigger and bigger.”
Brentton Ruiz is a long- time veteran of NYPIRG. He has been involved with the organization for five years. His experience spans multiple positions in different schools, ranging from being an intern for NYPIRG to having a position in its Board of Directors. Ruiz’s experience with NYPIRG shaped his interests and he credits his urban studies major to his time with NYPIRG. His personal interactions have instilled in him the belief that students can affect their legislators so long as they take advantage of the opportunity. “Once you have students getting more involved in politics,” Ruiz said, “they have the power to influence these things.”
He has seen it himself in the past few years as student participation has steadily grown. Since only the past year, he has seen a marked difference in the number of students who came to the event.
“I think that having more people there and having more people put pressure has forced the legislators to listen, especially with next year being an election year,” Ruiz said.
Photo Courtesy of Meghan Cobane