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Student delegates lobby for CUNY in Albany

Student delegates lobby for CUNY in Albany. Photo by Nathan Lin.

Student delegates lobby for CUNY in Albany. Photo by Nathan Lin.

Student delegates selected by the Undergraduate Student Government attended the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators 46th Annual Legislative Conference to lobby to members of congress on behalf of CUNY-wide issues. Year after year, the most sought-after issue is the battle to win a perpetual tuition freeze for all CUNY students.

As part of their advocacy devoted specifically to Baruch College, delegates also emphasized the need to allocate funds to the maintenance of the 23rd Street Building, currently undergoing minute changes at a glacial pace, according to some students. The building requires a complete infrastructural overturn and more attention to peeling walls. Some classrooms in the 23rd Street Building are furnished with dysfunctional and noisy air conditioners.

However, this year, delegates also pushed for increased funding to the new recreational space set to open in the basement of the U.S. Postal Service facing the Newman Vertical Campus on 24th Street. Although its use has not yet been determined, delegates spent part of the weekend pitching the developing vision for the new recreational space to legislators. The space may potentially accommodate more club activity or may serve as another lounge area equipped with extra computers or vending machines for students.

Well-known CUNY advocates attended the caucus, including New York State Assembly members and Baruch alumni Gary Pretlow and Diana Richardson. Also in attendance were Speaker of the State Assembly Carl Heastie and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, both of whom graduated from Baruch as well.

Richardson, in particular, has always strongly fought for increased funding for CUNY. She is known for attending rallies and protests to fight against tuition hikes and other financial barriers that may negatively impact students.

Richardson also spoke at the annual Gala Scholarship Dinner, during which she and other assembly members discussed “the right to assemble and the need to take action,” according to Abdul-Razak Abubakar, sophomore and president of Chit-Chat Baruch. Abubakar attended the caucus as a USG delegate. Richardson inspired several delegates. Junior Daniela Tamarova pinpointed her as a woman who “loves her job and really wants to help her constituents.”

While the delegates had mostly positive comments about the experience, a few found that some assembly members were disingenuous and disengaged. Pretlow, for example, “seemed a little out of touch,” said Tamarova.

Junior Sarah Dobrowolski indicated that she felt disappointed when Pretlow’s tone and cadence dropped the moment the delegates brought up renovation plans for the 23rd Street Building.

“I am sure he is a busy assembly member, [but] it was disappointing to see what looked like indifference about Baruch’s interests. He did at least say he would be willing to tour the building.”

On the contrary, USG representative senator Suleman Aleem said that Pretlow inspired him because he seemed to demonstrate interest in each student speaker.

Vice President of Legislative Affairs Ehtasham Bhatti agreed with Aleem, saying that Pretlow engaged with the students and indicated that he previously signed a letter in support of funds for renovations to the 23rd Street Building.

Niou’s presence in the conference struck some delegates, who were awed by the fact that she is the first Asian-American elected official to serve in a Manhattan district.

Dobrowolski said, “Niou understood the need to take action to represent her people, including community outreach like translating documents to improve accessibility.”

Niou was accompanied by her friend Ivy Lei, an undocumented immigrant. Lei spoke to the delegates about the difficulties other undocumented immigrants face, such as requiring identification in order to check into a government building. These laws, Dobrowolski indicated, add extra barriers and further separate elected officials from their constituents.

Bhatti organized the delegation to Albany. After copious planning and organization, he assembled the agenda and prepped the team.

“We did a fantastic job! All of our legislators … were impressed by our passion and voice for Baruch and CUNY, and were very open in sharing how they benefited from Baruch, what Baruch means to them, and how great of an impact we can have on our respective communities,” said Bhatti.

A few delegates expressed the desire to prepare better for future caucuses, suggesting that the next team practices speaking in front of legislators and learns to ask relevant questions about specific policies. Bhatti hopes that future delegates will also learn their community representatives so they can petition them for change effectively.Delegates from the University Student Senate also went to the caucus as a coalition of their own to advocate solely for CUNY-wide issues. Each delegate had a responsibility to network with local and state legislators to bring CUNY issues to light within the political sphere.

Delegates also have a responsibility to thoroughly prepare for conferences, meetings and networking socials in order to convince legislators that they should allocate additional funds to New York’s public university system when they submit their agendas.

Other notable speakers included morning show host Dr. Roland Martin, who gave a speech at the Gala about leadership in a small community. Martin was the keynote speaker at the event.

Sophomore Danny Morote said the speech “allowed [him] to question [himself] as a leader in [his] community.” During the speech, Morote wondered if he was doing enough to change his community for the better.

Dobrowolski enjoyed Martin’s speech and said that it captured the activist spirit when he gave an anecdote about a bus boycott as an act of civil disobedience.

“Ultimately, he reminded the audience that this caucus was meant to extend beyond the weekend as we ought not to ‘sit back and let someone else do the work,’” she said.

The delegates also met with and spoke to Public Advocate of New York City Leticia James and Sen. Jamaal Bailey.

February 25, 2017

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