I had my testimony planned at 6 p.m. for the Feb. 24 Appropriations Committee hearing on college funding.  It was full of analogies and the plight of the CSCU system.  But by the time I came to talk (four hours later at 10 p.m.) I threw it away.  The entire evening already told my students’ story.

There were the community college students, predominantly working class and students of color, who were unable to enter the chamber because there was no room.  They tried for several minutes to gain entrance, but ultimately were told that they would have to use the “overflow room” and watch from there.  They were allowed to walk briefly into the chamber at one point to show the legislators that they indeed were present.

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Eastern Connecticut State University students were unable to testify because their bus refused to wait any longer (it already had waited for over two hours).  But as they were leaving, one Eastern student yelled “Remember we were here!”

And even though we could not afford to have greeters waiting at the entrance of the capitol building, or lobbyists draw out all the necessary talking points for students, faculty or our staff, I have never been prouder of our students.  Between multiple jobs, families needing them at home, or pooling gas money to travel from all corners of our state, they showed up ready to fight for their education.

So when it came my turn to talk, they already had said it all.  I simply started by asking the legislators to remember what happened that night.  They saw for themselves who were the neediest students.  They heard heartbreaking stories from CSCU students who could not make ends meet and were begging for any relief.

I commend our legislators for patiently and compassionately listening to everyone’s story.  I ended mine with the image of our students struggling to gain access to the chamber — all while wearing shirts saying “Democracy is not a spectator’s sport.”

I ask the legislators to not forget about our students.  We have no $86 million dollar reserves to tap into.  Or $1.8 billion dollar state funded initiatives to leverage.  That night we only had our voice.  I hope we were heard.  For now we will wait, even if it is from the overflow room.

William Lugo, Ph.D. is an associate professor of sociology at Eastern Connecticut State University and member of the Faculty Advisory Committee to the Board of Regents.


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