Students Rise for Education

SUNY and CUNY students have come together to form a new politically active organization. Students said New York Students Rising (NYSR) connects students in the two school systems, emphasizes the importance of education and addresses issues such as tuition increase and privatization.

The group, founded in May, was born from the ideas of older undergraduates and graduate students at SUNY Buffalo, SUNY Albany and SUNY Binghamton. However, it was brought to SUNY New Paltz by third-year sociology and Black Studies major Jonathan Espinosa, New Paltz graduate Eirik Bjorkman and Christopher Gordon.

“Some key points that got New Paltz involved were SUNY Palooza and also the March 30 Occupation of the Capitol Building in Albany,” Bjorkman said. “We met most of the people involved in the organization then, and also realized that it was time that students took things into their own hands and make our voices heard.”

Espinosa attended one of the two NYSR retreats, which played an integral role in the development of the group. Attendees discussed their purpose and the reasons they were there, in order to begin building the foundation of NYSR. They then created various committees such as web tech, outreach, research and action.

With a more established structure, the group could begin to pursue and plan action to fight for the causes highlighted in their campaign like their primary concern of the rising cost for both SUNY and CUNY schools.

“We’re trying to tell as many students as possible around the state to fight for public education and to protect it because right now the tuition is going up,” Espinosa said. “It went up this year already and it’s going to go up for the next five years, so our stance is that we shouldn’t be paying more for less, we’re getting less classes, less services, bigger classrooms.”

Growing up in a low-income family, Espinosa feels he has a particular purpose in this matter.  As tuition is raised, and financial aid is lowered, he believes it is his duty to make sure financially disadvantaged families are able to afford a higher education in the future.

Other problems NYSR hopes to tackle are the Millionaires Tax and a plan called UB2020. The Millionaires Tax is an annually renewed tax on millionaires that NYSR believes should continue to be enforced and extended.

“The politicians argument is that if we tax millionaires they’ll leave New York State, but that’s not the problem,” Espinosa said. “The problem is that they’re not funding the state funded institutions of higher education correctly, so they’re wasting a lot of money.”

UB2020, essentially an agenda to privatize SUNY Buffalo, was recently passed. Still, UB2020 can be a model; state legislatures have passed the similar SUNY 2020 bill that affects the tuition and financial aid of all SUNY and CUNY schools.

While NYSR’s presence on campus is not yet well known, they will be spreading the word through fliers, hosting a kick-off event to welcome NYSR to New Paltz and by going from class to class talking about the movement. They have already planned a state-wide walk out/teach-in on Oct. 5. Students from Albany, Buffalo, Binghamton, Stony Brook and CUNY schools will leave class, meet at a central spot and listen to a student perspective on topics such as the increase in tuition and fees, cuts to staff and services, the administration’s official reports and various other topics that students will realize actually affect them.

“We’ll document the whole thing and put them all up on the web together, this way students can see that there are people in other places who are going through the similar situations,” Bjorkman said. “This is the first step towards our plan on making some serious state-wide connections and unifying and empowering the student body.”

Espinosa believes that this walk-out has the potential to be more effective than the one held last year, as they can reflect on the mistakes made previously and what they can improve upon. This time around, he plans to better explain to participants why they should care and fight for their education, rather than just what they should do about it.

The walk-out is not the only endeavor that NYSR is currently working on. They are also doing a campaign this year titled “Chop From the Top.” This campaign involves looking at administrators of SUNY and CUNY who earn more than $100,000 and to convince those in charge that salaries must be cut. Their view is that there are schools that lack sufficient funding, yet there are presidents of schools who are making more than $200,000.

While NYSR still wants to attract more schools to their cause and needs to fully set their feet on New Paltz’s ground, they have high hopes for what the organization can ultimately achieve in the future.

“I think that the potential for NYSR is huge,” Bjorkman said. “We have a solid group of dedicated, trustworthy students, and we truly believe that we can change the dialogue on higher education in New York.”