UConnPIRG: waivable fee funds student-initiated campaigns

UConnPIRG tables on Fairfield Way in this undated file photo.  Student activist group wants students to know they reserve the option to waive the group’s $5 per semester fee, present on University of Connecticut student fee bills.  (Jason Jiang/The Daily Campus)

Student activist group UConnPIRG wants students to know they reserve the option to waive the group’s $5 per semester fee, present on University of Connecticut student fee bills.

“UConnPIRG was founded because a group of students wanted to fund our own advocacy group to create solutions and solve problems we see in the world,” UConnPIRG campus organizer Shawna Upton said. “We are student-funded and run.”

The $5 per semester fee, which totals to a $10 per year fee, funds staff who execute student-initiated campaigns, according to Upton.

“The fee funds staff in D.C., Hartford and here,” Upton said. “We prioritize people and we don’t spend the money on props or food.”

UConn students may waive the fee if they feel UConnPIRG does not represent their beliefs.

“People who waive it might not know what it is,” Upton said. “And it’s okay if people are opposed to our campaigns.”  

Students have the opportunity to vote whether or not UConnPIRG should continue to receive student funding every three years, according to Upton.

“We ran the vote last spring, so students will decide again in spring 2019,” Upton said. “We voluntarily run the vote.”

The majority of students support UConnPIRG through paying the fee, Upton said.

“About 80 percent of students pay the fee,” Upton said. “The fee goes to other people working on your behalf…it’s your way of being a [UConnPIRG] member as well, even if you don’t have the time to volunteer.”

UConnPIRG keeps its campaigns student-initiated and student-oriented in several ways, Upton said.

“We ask the campus what campaigns they’d want to run with issue cards at the beginning of the semester and something similar at the end,” Upton said.  

One such UConnPIRG campaign achieved success recently, according to Upton.

“We stopped the overuse on factory farms of antibiotics,” Upton said. “Students ran a huge campaign across the country to stop antibiotic overuse directed at Subway, and we’re targeting KFC now.”

UConnPIRG is currently managing another food-related campaign, Upton said.

“We’re also working to save the bees,” Upton said. “We’re calling on the EPA to end neonicotinoid use and working with the dining halls.”

According to Upton, UConnPIRG is active on a more local stage as well.

“We run toiletry drives and aid in food drives,” Upton said. “We participated in ‘Trick or Canning’ this Halloween, receiving over 50 items to be donated to a local food bank.”

UConnPIRG has been encouraging students to participate in this year’s election, Upton said.

“We’ll be out there on Election Day on Fairfield Way, giving away buttons and shuffling people to buses outside the bookstore that can take them to vote,” Upton said. “We registered over 3,000 people [to vote].”

UConnPIRG is also striving to expand the prevalence of open source textbooks at UConn, Upton said.  

“We’ve worked with the library and USG,” Upton said. “It’s part of a statewide program now.”


Alexandra Retter is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.retter@uconn.edu.