Students Advocate at State House for Community College
More than 200 Massachusetts community college students, faculty, and staff from 15 schools, including 7 students from Northern Essex, showed up at the State House on Oct. 23 for Community College Student Advocacy Day to share their stories with legislators and to encourage them to support more funding for all Massachusetts community colleges. Students were accompanied by Janel D’Agata-Lynch, NECC’s coordinator of Civic Engagement, Service-Learning, & Community Resources, and Carian Diaz, director of community standards.
The event was sponsored by the Massachusetts Association of Community Colleges (MACC). Tom Sannicandro, director of MACC said, “Today was all about highlighting the individuals who are the most equipped to advocate the importance of investments in the 15 community colleges – the community college students.”
The day began with an opening ceremony and lunch in the Great Hall of Flags where Department of Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago, Senate Committee on Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, and co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Higher Education Senator Anne Gobi and Representative Jeffrey Roy gave speeches to set the theme for the day. Four community college students also joined as guest speakers for the day.
Northern Essex students shared a productive lunch with State Representative Christina Minicucci who serves the towns of Haverhill, Lawrence, Methuen, and North Andover. Minicucci explained the intricacies of public-school funding that contributes to “the huge disparities [between districts] and the inability of students to achieve their potential,” she said.
Samantha Cook, NECC liberal arts major from North Andover, mentioned that students with disabilities often don’t use the resources available to them, because of lack of accessibility and funding. Minicucci responded by speaking about the importance of equalizing the education that students get starting in K-12 up to community college. Minicucci shared that earlier she had been texting with NECC President Lane Glenn and State Representative Andres Vargas, with ideas for how they can create more funding for NECC.
NECC students got the chance to meet with Senator Diana DiZoglio and representative aids for Andy Vargas, Minicucci and Senator Barry Finegold and continued to focus on sharing their personal stories and journeys through community college.
Sofia Fedele, a NECC physics major, talked about her personal struggles with finding housing to shed light on how the high costs of housing in Massachusetts, especially in the cities surrounding Northern Essex, directly effect NECC students. Abbey Tannatt, environmental science major from North Andover contributed a story about her friend who had to drop out of NECC just to be able to afford rent. And Courtney Morin, liberal arts major from Lawrence, recounted her experience battling mental health to show how widely the issue spreads throughout community college students.
Joe Paquin, philosophy major from Plaistow provided the representatives and senators with a handout highlighting the bills that would support NECC students directly in their community college educations along with statistics to drive the points home.
“I commend you for being civically minded at the ages you’re at and at this time in your life when you’re all so busy with school,” said DiZoglio. “Taking the time to come here and advocate is huge, and we need more of that.” DiZoglio expressed her support for Bill S. 160, an act establishing a student loan bill of rights to prevent student loan providers with aggressive repayment terms from preying on students.
“Community College Advocacy Day made me feel like an active member of democracy, like I can actually make some kind of difference,” said Andrew Venditti, NECC journalism and communications major from Haverhill. “It gave me the opportunity to voice my opinions in a direct way and it gave the legislators real faces to attach to the needs and struggles of students,” said Venditti.