“I want to learn how I can talk to policy makers and be a political voice for students,” said Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Early Childhood Education major Somayeh Saadat. “In one of my teacher education classes, we had an advocacy section. We must think of ourselves as leaders not just in the classroom, but also in the world, as we speak out for children.”
Saadat had her chance to see where advocacy can get its start on Wednesday, April 19, as she joined a group of students through the BMCC Civic Leadership and Participation group and walked from the college’s main campus on Chambers Street to offices of the New York City Council at 250 Broadway.
Gathering in a conference room that showed views of City Hall — where the students went next for an inside tour — they met with Inez Barron, Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Higher Education, and Council staffers Kiiru Gichuru, Legislative Counsel, and Chloe Rivera, Policy Analyst.
The Council member and staff gave the students an overview on the New York City Council’s role within city, state and federal government. This included a briefing on the legislative process, the value of public hearings and how discussions at the committee level can lead to positive change.
“Trips like today can help us understand who to reach out to, in City government or the State Senate or wherever there is someone in a position that relates to education and the welfare of children,” said Saadat. Other BMCC students shared their how the visit related to their academic and career goals as they took turns around the table.
Eleni Spiru, a Liberal Arts major, plans to study political theory once she graduates from BMCC and transfers to a bachelor’s degree program. Stephanie I. Lopez aspires to address social justice issues by earning a bachelor’s degree in criminology at John Jay College.
Also in attendance were BMCC students Affou Coulibaly (Liberal Arts), Fatoumata Diallo (Paramedic), Mahnaz Masud Khan (Biotechnology) and Rahim Siam (Computer Information Systems).
Learning advocacy skills
"The students in our group, who have a wide variety of majors, all share an interest in learning more about how our government works and ways that they can be more informed and engaged,” said Douglas Israel, BMCC Director of Government and Community Relations who organized the excursion with Melissa Aponte, BMCC Assistant Director of Student Activities.
“I think they all walked away with not only a deeper understanding of the policy-making process, but also potential careers that exist in the public sector and the importance of being civically-engaged no matter what career path they chose.”
The visit to meet with a New York City Council member and staff, Israel says, was part of the BMCC Civic Leadership and Participation Program, a new initiative of the BMCC Academy of Leadership & Service, which is managed by the Office of Student Activities. In addition to attending the event at City Hall, students have participated in workshops on advocacy skills and civic engagement, and met face-to-face with legislators to advocate for increased funding for CUNY and higher education in general.
These events included a trip in March 2017 to Albany, where a small delegation of BMCC students met with New York State Assembly member Deborah Glick, Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal and New York Senator Marisol Alcantara and discussed CUNY budget priorities that relate to successful programs at BMCC.
Another recent Civic Participation and Leadership activity involved three BMCC student veterans who met with Eric Ulrich, Chair of the New York City Council Committee on Veterans in January. Accompanied by Israel as well as Wilfred Cotto, BMCC Veterans Services Specialist, the group presented their concerns about difficulties student veterans encounter when they apply for apartments and present as income, their Basic Allowance for Housing, part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Students interested in joining the Civic Leadership and Participation program may contact Melissa Aponte, Assistant Director of Student Activities and Leadership, at firstname.lastname@example.org