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The Ticker

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NYSABPRL blows cash on ‘caucus weekend,’ skimps on scholarships

Bianca Monteiro | The Ticker

Every year, student delegates are selected by the Undergraduate Student Government to attend the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Conference to raise scholarship funds for minority youth, but there has been no money for scholarships in the past two years.

During the 2015-16 fiscal year, the NYSABPRL Conference spent most of its cash on a “Caucus Weekend,” which consists of a series of workshops, concerts and parties for members of the Assembly and the Senate. According to the New York Post, the group threw a “lavish annual soiree — including $6,000 on limos — and gave out no grants.” The group was said to charge “sponsors up to $50,000 for a chance to party with lawmakers at events that have ­included Grammy Award-winning rappers and high-profile speakers such as Hillary Clinton and Jesse Jackson.”

It is unclear whether scholarships were given out in 2017-18 fiscal year.

USG President Radhika Kalani, who helped plan the annual trip to Albany this year, said when she went to the conference, “they had these extravagant scholarship dinners and it was an expensive trip overall, so to find that they were raising all this money, but they’re not even spending it on scholarships was really surprising.”

Vice President of Legislative Affairs Navjot Pal Kaur stated in an interview with The Ticker, “there is a lack of transparency in how scholarship money raised from this caucus is utilized” adding, “the scholarship fund is not for politicians, it’s for students who cannot afford their education.”

As a solution to this lack of transparency, Kaur suggested that this is a concern the ethics committee needs to look into and see where the funds are going to make sure students are allocated the money the conference is intended for. In addition, if USG can raise this issue and have it investigated, they plan to get the money back.

Kaur expressed that she is more hopeful going into this year’s conference, as the student delegates they selected are eager to learn about the political process and what the Albany legislation looks like. She stated that “because many students do not know how to reach out to their representatives, this will be a good way to expose them to who their senate members are and who their assembly members are.”

The week of the conference, Feb. 11 to 17 is lobbying week in Albany, and Feb. 12 is Higher Education Action Day where CUNY’s Undergraduate Student Senate is co-sponsoring a bus trip to Albany for students, faculty, staff and alumni to speak to legislators to support affordable and accessible higher education.

This lobbying effort is different from the caucus in that HEAD is run by CUNY students to encourage lawmakers to freeze tuition while the caucus is giving out scholarships and is more selective with attendees. The caucus has its own gala funded by a private sponsor and is more of a celebration for the organization and for students who are receiving scholarships, which are given according to a combination of both merit and need basis.

This year will be the 48th annual legislative conference and students can hope to get more scholarship funds than in previous years.

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