Baruch student delegates lobby for alumni support in Albany
Every year the Undergraduate Student Government selects student delegates to attend the annual New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Conference to lobby and advocate for CUNY related issues. This year marked the 48th anniversary of the NYSABPRL caucus with the theme: “We are the Agents of Change: Strong, Resilient, Unified.” The delegation meet both leaders of the Assembly and the Senate along with Baruch College alumnus. The weekend included a reception, workshops, meetings and a scholarship gala.
Photos Courtesy of Sheik Floradewan and Eric Lugo
As part of Baruch College’s lobbying efforts, members of USG and the student delegates advocated for the need to allocate an urgent $25 million for the Lawrence and Eris Field Building at 17 Lexington Avenue. This allocation would go toward the completion of phase two out of the seven phases required for whole project, which costs a total of $90 million. Vice President of Legislative Affairs Navjot Kaur and the Director of Government and Community Relations Eric Lugo headed the delegation this year.
FRIDAY, FEB. 15
Day 1: Chairperson’s Reception
The weekend kicked off with the “Chairperson’s Reception” on Friday evening at the Albany Capital Center, which was presented by Assemblywoman Latrice Walker. As legislators and speakers were welcomed to the caucus for the weekend, the delegates networked with their elected representatives and emphasized the need to allocate funds for 17 Lex.
Lugo introduced the delegates to Baruch alumnus and Assemblyman Carl Heastie, who represents the 83th district. Chair of Clubs and Organizations Dakshatha Daggala approached Heastie and requested his support for 17 Lex.
Executive Secretary Andrea Maribel Soto approached New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who is an alumnus of John Jay, and also asked him for his support.
While their attempts were commendable, many of the other delegates were nervous to approach their elected officials.
There was a meeting held by USG a week prior to the caucus but a few of the delegates expressed that the meeting was not helpful as it only went over the itinerary and not the actual reason for lobbying or how students should approach their elected officials. “Honestly, I didn’t really know coming into this trip that we were lobbying for 17 Lex. I wish they explained it better at the meeting,” said delegate Annmarie Gajdos. Another delegate, Cassey Cass, said, “I feel like if we had a training process, it would’ve been better like we would’ve been able to approach the legislators better.” “They should have paired each USG member with one of [the delegates],” Gajdos added.
Kaur’s advice to students going forward was to follow up with the elected officials through phone or email to ask them what their course of action is in helping fund Baruch and holding them accountable by being assertive.
SATURDAY, FEB. 16
Day 2: Workshops and meetings in the Empire State Plaza and Legislative Office Building
Throughout the day on Saturday, there were a series of conferences, workshops and meetings in which the delegates met with assembly members and senators from Baruch and continued their lobbying efforts for 17 Lex.
They met with former alumnus and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who represents New York’s 65th district, Sen. John Liu, who is a public affairs professor at Baruch, former alumnus and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who represents the 89th district, and former alumnus and Assemblywoman Diana Richardson, who represents the 43rd district.
As alumni of Baruch, they were able to understand the students’ struggles and showed their support by signing on to help fund 17 Lex.
“Our public colleges are falling apart, literally, but we still have to come to Albany and encourage lawmakers and persuade them that we need you to fund our education,” said Kaur.
“Let me tell you something about repeating yourself — it’s necessary. It’s frustrating, but it’s necessary,” said Richardson, adding, “because this is a multi-million-dollar project and since you’re getting money in phases, you’re going to have to keep coming up and reminding people what the plight is on the ground.”
The delegates all expressed that Richardson was the highlight of the caucus weekend.
Her words of advice were, “people pay attention to people who participate,” which students took as a motive to continue trying, rather than giving up.
Day 3: 48th Annual Scholarship Dinner Gala at Egg Performing Arts Center
On Sunday evening, the weekend convention was culminated by the 48th Annual Scholarship Dinner Gala and award ceremony, which is considered one of the most important events of the weekend.
The NYSBPRL encourages everyone to join the Annual Scholarship Dinner Gala to support members’ scholarship initiatives by purchasing tickets for the event, as net proceeds are awarded to students of color seeking higher education at New York State institutions.
The gala was opened by Sen. Jamaal Bailey and Assemblywoman Pamela Hunter.
Other speakers throughout the night included Keynote Speaker Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, Heastie and Sen. Chuck Schumer.
While recognition awards were given to speakers and panelists, scholarships were not awarded to students.
In an interview with The Ticker, Pretlow commented, “The scholarships have been given out, there wasn’t a great number as we wanted because the expense of everything this weekend costs, so people who earn scholarships — there is an accounts payable, so to speak, that those scholarships will be issued from future revenues.”
He explained that they intend to give out the scholarships that were not given.
“We’re not just going to not give them to people who earned them, we just didn’t have the cash flow to do it,” he said.
This begs the question as to why there was not enough cash flow for scholarships.
At the “Chairperson’s Reception” on Friday evening, there was a Facebook photobooth and a VR system sponsor by Oculus.
At the Empire State Plaza, there were stations giving out free merch and even a station that offered free manicures, make-up and men’s beard grooming services.
While many of the delegates utilized these services and received free merch such as water bottles and bags, the caucus is essentially more of a celebration for the organization than for the students who are receiving scholarships.
University Student Senate's take on Baruch's effort on lobbying for 17 Lex
Since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011, the budget he created for higher education caused tuition to increase and TAP awards have consistently remain unchanged.
Under Governor Cuomo’s FY18 Executive Budget Proposal, it proposed five more years of annual $250 tuition hikes and without mentioning any increase of TAP awards. With tuition skyrocketing and TAP awards falling behind, students end up having to fill that gap.
The CUNY University Student Senate who was also up at Albany for the weekend ¬lobbied for a tuition freeze for all CUNY students and advocated to close the current TAP gap.
In an interview with The Ticker, USS Alternate Delegate Razieh Arabi explained that with an increase in inflation and the overall cost of higher education increasing as well, along with the possibility of more admission’s, paying faculty, staff and other maintenance, colleges had to increase their tuition to generate revenue, but this only caused a deficit.
When they increased the tuition however, TAP did not increase. USS essentially lobbied for $4.9 million to close this gap.
“We need to bring the budget to balance in order for other good things or programs to happen, but for that to happen we first need this solid ground as basis,” said Arabi.
In regards to Baruch’s delegates lobbying for 17 Lex, Arabi expressed that she felt this is more of a local issue concerning the city, not something that is taken up to the state.
“I feel like the best route actually for local projects are local officials and local governments — maybe City Council, I don’t know but I don’t think this is something that concerns the state necessarily,” said Arabi.