By Michael Wieczorek, Executive Assistant to the President, AJCU
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On Thursday, July 20th, over 360 student leaders and staff from Jesuit institutions across the country gathered on Capitol Hill to prepare for a day of meetings with Members of Congress. Students and staff from Georgetown University and the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities organized the event as part of the National Jesuit Student Leadership Conference (NJSLC), which Georgetown is hosting this year for the first time.
In their meetings, the students planned to advocate for the extension of many federal programs that make higher education accessible, including the Perkins Loan Program, Supplemental Education Opportunity Grants, Pell Grants, Federal Work Study, and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) program. They also planned to speak in favor of the proposed DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors).
The students were eager to defend the federal higher education programs in light of cuts proposed by the Administration. Le Moyne College student Eric Burdge (class of 2019) said, “In high school, you apply to these programs, not really understanding how important they are. But now we know. It is incredible to have the opportunity to talk with our representatives about these issues.”
In her remarks to the group, Cyndy Littlefield, AJCU’s Vice President for Federal Relations, asked the students to raise their hands if they received support from one of the federal higher education programs; nearly all of the students responded in the affirmative. She told the group, “Today you are part of the political process. Tell your story.”
After Littlefield spoke, Los Angeles Ochoa-Reyes (Loyola University Chicago, ’19) provided an introduction to Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL). Senator Durbin welcomed the students and shared the story of Teresa Lee, an undocumented immigrant, whose story inspired him to first introduce the DREAM Act sixteen years ago. He announced that he would reintroduce the DREAM Act that day which, for the first time in fourteen years, has a Republican co-sponsor. Senator Durbin closed by saying, “By going to these meetings today, you can make a difference. We are glad that you are here. We need you more than ever.”