UC students lobby higher education policies at state capitol

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A coalition of more than 420 student representatives from across the UC system, including about 35 UC Berkeley students, met with state senators and state Assembly members at the state capitol Monday, lobbying about issues important to UC students.

The day of action culminated the weekend-long Student Lobby Conference, which is hosted annually to teach UC students how to effectively lobby for higher education, discuss issues that are pertinent to students, develop scripts and agendas and directly engage elected officials on these issues.

“It’s great to see students passionate about making a change in education come together and storm the capital,” said Safeena Mecklai, current ASUC external affairs vice president and board chair of the UC Student Association, which put on the conference. “We’re letting our legislators know that students are not only great action organizers but also great lobbyists when it comes to something we’re passionate for, which is our education.”

Students lobbied for an array of bills, including those that would create a proposed tax on oil extraction in California to help fund higher education, tighten sexual assault policies on college campuses and add clarifications to the federal Title IX law and prevent discrimination against pregnant students.

Other students supported programs on the senate and Assembly floors, such as the creation of a student loan program for undocumented students and the establishment of alternatives to the juvenile court system.

The oil severance tax bill, SB 1017, is an outgrowth of the California Modernization and Economic Development Act, authored by UC Berkeley students. The other bills the students lobbied in support of were written by Assembly members or senators who are advocates for the university, Mecklai said.

The same day, a crowd of about 100 students raised awareness about student debt by holding what appeared to be tombstones on the capitol lawn. Chiseled on the stones were the names of the students and the amount of debt each student is “buried under,” Mecklai said.

After the demonstration, the UCSA president, Senator Kevin de Leon, Senator Ricardo Lara and Assemblymember Das Williams spoke to the crowd. Mecklai joined them to discuss innovative solutions to fund the university, including Proposition 13 reform and the oil tax.

Three students also shared their personal experiences with debt, while one student spoke on the value of diversity at the university.

“It has been an honor to help organize and to see so many UC Berkeley students lobby for the first time — and others maybe for their second time,” said Disha Banik, a UC Berkeley sophomore who works as Mecklai’s chief deputy of state affairs. “It’s a rare opportunity to be able to meet with your legislator in the capitol and express directly the experiences and hardships of being a students at Berkeley.”

Contact Taryn Smith and Bo Kovitz at [email protected].