Department hosts National Student Issues Convention
On October 30, 2015, more than 200 students gathered in the UIC Student Center East to discuss the issues they hope local, state, and federal representatives will address. The National Student Issues Convention, hosted yearly for over a decade by the Political Science Department, offered students across disciplines the chance to lend their voice to the democratic process. They begin by breaking into small groups and expressing their views on economic, social, and political issues that directly affect their interests. After initial discussions, the student groups cast their votes for the following as their top concerns:
1. TIF Reform to focus investment on revitalizing neighborhoods.
2. Address police brutality through body cameras.
3. A more equitable Chicago budget focused on schools rather than tourist attractions.
4. Addressing uncertainty of job availability once students graduate.
5. Address campus security through increased emergency preparedness training.
6. Increase campus student minimum wage to match city minimum wage.
7. Address campus safety through sexual harassment training.
8. Reform student tuition financing.
9. Avoid budget cuts to higher education while increasing funding through TIF utilization.
10. Improve community/police relations through training, reforming police review boards, and abolish mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent crimes.
After the initial vote, the full group discussed condensing both police-related recommendations, and asked that they be considered one issue. A second round of voting commenced to break the tie for the final spot on the agenda. Ultimately, the top five issues on the UIC student agenda for 2015 were:
1. TIF Reform to focus investment on revitalizing neighborhoods
2. Address community/police relations through increased training, body cameras, reforming review boards, and abolishing mandatory minimum sentencing for non-violent crimes.
3. Reform student tuition financing
4. A more equitable Chicago budget focused on schools more than tourist attractions
5. Increase campus student minimum wage to equal city minimum wage
Four local public leaders responded to the concerns and proposals of the students. The elected officials were Illinois State Representative William Davis (30th District), and Chicago Alderman Ricardo Munoz (22nd Ward). They were joined by formal mayoral candidate and community leader Amara C. Enyia, and Harish Patel, who is currently running for State Representative of Illinois’ 40thDistrict. The leaders responded individually to the issues the students raised, and shared their personal opinions and policymaking experiences at various levels of government. They also highlighted the privilege and opportunity of the students in the room, and encouraged continued political participation and civic engagement.
At the end of the Convention, the concerns of the UIC students will be combined with those of other universities to create a national student issues agenda. These are then forwarded to other elected officials throughout the U.S., who continue to work with students to address their documented concerns.
Former Alderman and UIC Political Science Professor Dick Simpson, who coordinates the convention effort, said, “The convention lets students confront candidates and public official in person. From this they learn that political leaders are not so different from themselves and that they do respond to the demands from constituents, even students.”
Simpson continued: “Our goal is to make students active participants in democracy, and to help them find their voice in what seems at first a large, complicated political system.” Alderman Ricardo Munoz addressed student’s concerns regarding TIFs, stating that TIFs are classified as either speculative or project specific. Munoz sees project specific TIFs a more transparent and equitable allocation of TIF funds on behalf of blighted neighborhoods. At the moment, only 60 out of 161 existing TIFs are project specific, an issue that Munoz plans on tackling in the future.State Representative William Davis of the 30th District commented on student’s concerns about police brutality and the proposed issue of police cameras stating that cameras could be a useful tool moving forward, but the issue “requires a much more broad conversation.”
One UIC Student, Timothy Goldrick said of the convention: “the convention today was very informative and well run. I was there from start to finish and I learned a lot about pressing issues. I wish we got to grill the panel a little more, but, hey, it's all good. During my time at Iowa State University we never had guests come and discuss our agenda instead of their own.”
Additionally, during the event, Political Science Student Union and Student Government organizations registered 50 students to vote and collected donations of 50 pairs of socks for homeless youth on behalf of the SOCKTOBER campaign.