This year was unlike any other in terms of what challenges we faced as a society, as students, and as a community. However, despite all of the challenges, we persevered and still accomplished so much on behalf of students in Connecticut and our communities.
Youth Earth Week: A celebration of student activism
Since the founding of Earth Day in 1970, students have been celebrating Earth Day in creative ways. This year, the Student PIRGs went big. We not only celebrated the Earth, but also the hard work that we have been doing to protect it. From coast to coast, Student PIRG chapters, clubs, and partners held over 200 events to raise awareness and take action to protect our planet. Over 1,500 students attended Earth Week events and took over 3,600 actions to support our campaigns!
At Trinity College, we held an advocacy week to support banning single use polystyrene foam cups and containers in Connecticut! Our main event was a panel discussion of environmental policies in Connecticut featuring guest speakers State Senator Will Haskell and the Environment Committee Vice Chair Christine Palm.
And, we didn’t stop there! In addition to lobbying our elected officials, our chapters took the chance to connect with their communities and the nature around them. We hosted events like trash clean ups, documentary movie screenings, game nights, and more! See below for some of our chapters and campus partners celebrating!
Democracy Never Stops: Young People Turned Out to Vote at Unprecedented Levels!
Having our voices heard is critical to a healthy democracy, and that all starts with voting during elections. Oftentimes college students are voting for the first time or are living in different places than their permanent address. This is why we prioritize educating people about how they can get registered and turn out to vote every major election cycle.
Last semester, we worked to mobilize young people to turnout to vote for the 2020 election. In addition to the 300 students we registered to vote, we made 10,000 direct contacts to student voters in the days leading up to the election, with the help of faculty, campus administrators, social media influencers, and our volunteers by activating emails, making virtual class announcements, and presenting in student group meetings.This peer-to-peer outreach certainly paid off because we saw record breaking youth voter turnout nation-wide, and here in Connecticut saw an increase in the young people who turned out to vote. Check out this CIRCLE data report to read more about the youth voter increases that we worked on across New England!
But, democracy never stops! We are determined to build off the momentum of the 2020 election, and make sure that we continue to help young people have their voices heard in every level of government, not just presidential races.
Addressing basic needs through our Hunger & Homelessness campaign
There have always been people in our community who are in need – whether that means access to adequate shelter, food, toiletries, or other medical/health related services. This has only been heightened during the pandemic and the economic crisis in the past year. That’s why we’ve been addressing these issues as students and community members, organizing and mobilizing people to take action by donating money, spreading awareness, and working to build a coalition of groups here on campus that will work towards long-term systemic changes to eliminate poverty in our community.
Over the course of the semester, our student volunteers and interns working with the Hunger and Homelessness campaign raised over $800 through grassroots fundraising. These funds were donated to various organizations in the Hartford community working to tackle basic needs insecurities, including the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.
Making textbooks more affordable
Along with many other chapters across the state, our chapter has been working to tackle the ever-rising costs of textbooks. At Trinity College, we focused on establishing a campus wide survey on the costs of textbooks and how that affects students. Expect to see that survey released in the fall!
Besides working to create that survey we have been partnering with the registrar’s office to increase awareness among the student body about how much money they should expect to pay in textbooks before they enroll in courses. That way students who are struggling financially know what classes they can take to minimize their financial burden.
Protecting Pell Grant funding
At the national level, we’ve worked for decades to protect Pell Grant funding and increase protections for students as consumers so they avoid becoming victims of predatory practices from private lenders. Right now, we need Congress to take bold, bipartisan action to make life-changing degrees easier and more affordable to earn. Learn more here.
Pell Grants used to cover three quarters of the cost of an average four-year public tuition, but now it covers less than a third. Doubling Pell is an important step to restoring much of its intended purchasing power. We are working with a diverse coalition of more than 80 national groups to push Congress to double the Pell, and together we have a huge opportunity to make it happen. Congress has a lot of priorities to work through this budget season, and we need to remind them to invest in students by doubling the Pell grant.
In February, students with PIRG chapters from across the country held 75 lobby meetings with their members of congress to share their stories about why getting an affordable education is necessary for them and asked their legislators to advocate for doubling the Pell grant (and more) in the upcoming federal budget discussions. Next week, we’re participating in a national week of action for this campaign that will include letter writing, social media actions, and more. Stay tuned for how our efforts to make college more affordable plays out!
All made possible by the CONNPIRG fee
The problems that CONNPIRG tackles are large; impacting us locally but are also often national in scope. Our goals are not simply for students to “make their voices heard” on these issues, but to win concrete reforms that improve people’s lives and the world. In order to make real, substantial change, we combine student enthusiasm with professional staff to run our effective statewide organization. And all of this campaign work is made possible because of the students pay their CONNPIRG fee!