Making Change Happen: UConn PIRG’s plans for the fall semester

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Members of UConnPIRG tabling on Fairfield Way. The non-partisan student advocacy group is planning six different campaigns for the semester, such as a movement for transparency of college textbook costs.  File Photo/The Daily Campus
Members of UConnPIRG tabling on Fairfield Way. The non-partisan student advocacy group is planning six different campaigns for the semester, such as a movement for transparency of college textbook costs. File Photo/The Daily Campus

UConnPIRG, the University of Connecticut’s chapter of the Public Interest Research Group, wants to make the world better one change at a time, said Emily O’Hara, UConnPIRG chapter chair, UConnPIRG students board of directors vice chair, New Voters Project coordinator and seventh-semester political science and English double major. 

 As a non-partisan student advocacy group, the organization is working on six different campaigns for the fall 2019 semester on issues ranging from cleaning up the environment to increasing youth votes, O’Hara said.  

The Zero Waste campaign focuses on improving waste reduction on campus, according to the UConnPIRG website. This semester’s goal is to switch their focus from plastic bags to polystyrene, commonly known as Styrofoam, said Kyleigh Hillerud, Zero Waste Campaign coordinator and fifth-semester digital media and design major.  

“Since winning the statewide bag ban, the zero waste campaign has shifted its focus on a local and statewide polystyrene ban,” Hillerud said. “Ever since we pressured Dunkin’ to commit to phasing all polystyrene cups out by 2020, we haven’t worked on polystyrene until this semester.” 

O’Hara said the zero-waste campaign will start campaigning for Mansfield to ban styrofoam. They will campaign using social media and petition drives while working with the Mansfield Town Council.  

The 100% Renewable Energy campaign is focusing on clean transportation at UConn, said Parth Patel, the campaign’s co-coordinator and fifth-semester molecular and cell biology and political science double major. 

“We will focus on pushing for the university to support electric buses over diesel buses, as it is the right decision for the environment and for the university economically,” Patel said. “Along with cleaner transportation, we will work on getting the university to release a CO2 emission report to bring awareness to our university’s carbon footprint so we can advocate for bigger change in the university.” 

For the upcoming election, the New Voters Project will host a National Voter Registration Day event the week of Sept. 24, O’Hara said. However, their biggest project will be collaborating with the Undergraduate Student Government (USG) to organize the HuskyEngage summit, a leadership training event. 

“[The New Voters Project] is stressing that early student engagement is key to consistent participation, and with the campaign seeing such a rapidly developing trend in student voter mobilization, we believe 2019-2020 is going to be one of our strongest years,” O’Hara said.  

The Textbook Affordability campaign’s goal for this semester is focused on price transparency, Deevena Annavarjula, affordable textbooks coordinator and fifth-semester allied health major, said. 

“Our goal is to work with professors and administrators to implement a logo or symbol in the course registration system or course catalog to indicate when a class has materials costing less than $50,” Annavarjula said. “This is something we are actually partnering with the Academic Affairs committee through USG on because this is an issue they are working on as well.”  

 The Hunger and Homelessness campaign is focusing on learning what more they can do to help the community in addition to their service work, Colleen Keller, campaign coordinator and third-semester history major, said. 

“We’ll be working with the Covenant Soup Kitchen throughout the semester to volunteer and learn more about what we can do for our community,” Keller said. “Our Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week will be the week before Thanksgiving break, during which we’re planning on hosting multiple awareness events, such as a panel, movie screening and poverty simulation.” 

After UConnPIRG helped UConn receive a national accreditation that made UConn a “Bee Friendly Campus,” the Save the Bees campaign is working on getting the town of Mansfield to become “Bee Friendly” as well, according to the UConnPIRG website.

UConnPIRG previously had a mental health campaign, but it has been redirected to USG, who already has a process in place for Student Services, O’Hara said. UConnPIRG is not currently working on this issue. 

With the grassroots training that UConnPIRG provides, no matter what issues one works on, members can see their efforts pay off, O’Hara said. 

“The best part is that we make change happen, and have done so for more than forty years,” O’Hara said. “We make action for a change, and develop effective strategies to win our campaigns.” 

Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at [email protected].