Advocating students take message to capitol

Although Gov. Tom Corbett proposed flat funding for Pennsylvania’s 14 state and four state-related universities, Temple students, alumni and administrators feel that their presence in the state capitol is as important now than ever.

On March 19, more than 100 students along with alumni met with state legislators in Harrisburg, Pa., as a part of the third annual Owls on the Hill Day.

“Legislators always appreciate the opportunity to hear from their constituents and hear from their students about the importance of the commonwealth appropriation,” Senior Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs Ken Lawrence said.

Owls on the Hill, formerly known as Cherry and White Day, was part of Cherry and White Week in Harrisburg, which also highlighted undergraduate research and featured artists and athletes.

The two main goals of this year’s advocacy day were to create a visual presence in Harrisburg and thank legislators for their support of higher education funding.

Lawrence’s main concern was that participants would lack the sense of urgency present the past two years because this year marks the first time since taking office that Corbett did not propose deep cuts to higher education funding. Last year, Corbett proposed a 30 percent cut to Temple’s funding, which followed a proposed cut of 50 percent the previous year.

“I think it was important not to lose any momentum and continue to show the legislature and governor that we are continuing to watch and we are appreciative of what we are getting, but we will remain active and vocal on behalf of funding for higher education,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence’s concerns were put to rest when more than 100 students boarded buses both on Main Campus and Ambler Campus at 9 a.m. last Tuesday, representing the largest number of students who had ever advocated in Harrisburg for Temple.

“[Legislators] see students coming, so they know it is a bigger issue,” Temple Student Government Student Body President David Lopez said. “So, it is the vision component that is why it is so important because they know we care about it.”

For the first time in the event’s history, alumni were invited to join the advocacy efforts in Harrisburg, further increasing the university’s presence and message.

Then School of Communications and Theater alumnae Elliot Griffin and Director of Community and Neighborhood Affairs Andrea Swan were among the nearly 15 alumni advocates who shared their stories with legislatures.

“I know that a lot of times people try to tell [legislators] that investing in higher education is investing in Pennsylvania, but I was trying to explain why that is in fact true,” Griffin said.

Griffin grew up in Allegheny County in Western Pennsylvania and made the decision to not only attend Temple for journalism, but also accept a job with Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy, housed on Locust Street in Center City.

“Alumni are able to come in and say what life is like after Temple, and we can discuss how many people we graduated with who might have been from Maryland or New Jersey and because Temple really makes students a part of the Philadelphia community, stayed in the state,” Griffin said.

The message of the alumni aligned with the Twitter campaign that TSG launched leading up to Owls on the Hill Day, which utilized the tag #OurFutureMatters to highlight current students’ plan to give back to the commonwealth.

A Tweet on March 6 featured TSG Vice President of External Affairs Ofo Ezeugwu’s goal to “open businesses in Pennsylvania and provide job opportunities for people all over.”

In addition to maintaining a presence in the state capitol, Owls on the Hill Day also focused on thanking legislators for their support of higher education funding.

“The most important thing you can do when you go into any meeting is to say to someone, ‘Thank you for your support that you have provided in the past, and we hope that you will consider supporting Temple in the future,’” Lopez said.

Lopez, along with TSG Vice President of Services Julian Hamer and a small group of students and alumni, had the opportunity to thank Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who completed both his undergraduate and graduate studies at Temple and is one of the university’s biggest boasters on the hill, Lawrence said.

Swan had the opportunity to connect with Rep. Maria Donatucci, who serves parts of both Philadelphia and Delaware counties.

“I met with my state representative Donatucci, whose family has a long history of service to Philadelphia. It was great to connect with my representative and a representative of a family who has given so much to Temple,” Swan said.

Although a great number of legislators were eating lunch or in caucus when the participants were in the capitol between noon and 2 p.m., the presence of the students still sent a message to those legislators who did not get a chance to meet with students.

“We got some feedback from legislators who were saying it is great to see students here even when things are good and when good, they mean it is not a circumstance where a major budget cut is on the line,” Lopez said, adding, “We want to make sure they know we are trying to build a working relationship between Temple and the people who govern.”

At the end of the day, students said they made the trip to Harrisburg to tell their story and add to the advocacy efforts of Lawrence and his office.

Griffin recalls meeting with a legislative aid who had talked with President Neil Theobald the previous week, but wanted to hear what a normal day at Temple was like.

“It was at that moment that everyone was like we are really making a difference and able to provide a voice that no administrators can provide and that only a student who is taking classes and really needs Temple’s resources can provide,” Griffin said.

Lawrence cannot speak of how important it is to him and the university that students make the effort to connect with their state representatives.

“The best thing for me, personally, if I go into a legislator’s office and they say that they heard from 20 to 30 of their constituents on behalf of Temple then there is not a whole lot that I have to say to that legislator,” Lawrence said.

“I firmly believe that one of the reasons why we were not proposed to be cut this year is because of all the past advocacy that we have done where the legislature and governor have recognized that this is a very vocal and organized community supporting higher education funding in general and Temple specifically,” he added.

Laura Detter can be reached at laura.detter@temple.edu. 

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