Students get involved with UConnPIRG at spring kick-off meeting

Students gathered at the Student Union on Wednesday night to hear about student activist group UConnPRIG's upcoming plans and to get involved. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut students gathered at the Student Union on Wednesday night to hear about student activist group UConnPIRG’s upcoming plans and to get involved with the organization at its spring semester kick-off meeting.

“I think seeing students here in big numbers is proof of how excited people are to get involved. There are about 80 to 90 people,” eighth-semester finance major and UConnPIRG treasurer Saman Azimi said. “I’m excited to help other students get empowered, and getting ready to continue the fight.”

Azimi said that successful activism requires effort.

“You see a lot of protestors taking action for a lot of different causes right now. Activism is working and taking your time to make change,” Azimi said.

One of UConnPIRG’s campaigns, the save the bees campaign, will advocate for the banning of neonicotinoid use on crops, second-semester political science major and save the bees campaign coordinator Emily O’Hara said.

“Bees were recently added to the endangered species list,” O’Hara said. “Neonicotinoids are a dangerous chemical and pesticide, similar to nicotine and addictive. Farmers spray their crops, bees get in contact with the crops and colonies collapse. Bee keepers lost 40 percent of their colonies last year. The obvious solution is to ban the chemical. I think we can do it through grassroots efforts. In addition to making petitions and sending them to the EPA, we want UConn to be a bee friendly campus.”

The student activist group’s hunger and homeless campaign will focus on helping Syrian refuges this semester, according to fourth-semester history major and hunger and homelessness campaign coordinator Matt Talley.

“I personally think it’s the humanitarian crisis of our generation, and want to do what we can to help,” Talley said. “We hope to raise $1,000 to donate to Syrian refugees and plan to hold a couple of awareness events to educate the campus.”

The ongoing situation in Syria and a recent executive order from President Donald Trump regarding the admittance of refugees into the USinspired one student to become involved in the hunger and homelessness campaign’s work.

“I’m in the accelerated law program, which means I finish in two years instead of three. I’m writing my thesis on political Islam. I was really relying on my mentor to help. He said he’d be here in the summer. He’s in Syria, doing research on Islam,” fourth-semester political science and economics major Samar Iq Bal said.

Iq Bal said that she is unsure if her mentor can return to the US because of his green card’s status.

“I would hope that he could come back. I don’t know who else to turn to. I’m in a state of uncertainty, especially being Muslim in America. I’m afraid that family and friends can’t make it here, and that there might even be a registry,” Iq Bal said.

Another student said that he attended the spring kick-off meeting after hearing about UConnPIRG’s activism.

“I went to the first tabling they did, and they came to one of my classrooms,” fourth-semester management and engineering for manufacturing major Kevin Murillo said. “I recently started making a lot of new friends who opened my eyes to new problems. With the Syrian refugee crisis, I wanted to do what I could to help.”

UConnPIRG is also working to eliminate single-use water bottles on campus, to keep money out of elections and to prevent further pipelines from being constructed in Connecticut.

State representative for Mansfield Gregg Haddad thanked UConnPIRG for their efforts.

“I usually come to this event because I think ConnPIRG does some of the best student organization at UConn,” Haddad said. “It’s a way to say thank you for that and a way to express interest in a few campaigns you’re working on. I’m a publicly financed candidate, so one of the things that I really appreciate about the work ConnPIRG is ready to do is the citizens’ election fund. It’s a tremendous liberation to be a legislator in Hartford who is not beholden to special interests and lobbyists who control so much of what goes on in the building.”

Students have the power to enable change, national organizing director for the student PIRGS Andy MacDonald said.

“The whole open source textbooks campaign started with a student at UC Irvine who looked at the system and realized publishers made students pay whatever they asked for,” MacDonald said. “At UC Riverside last week the whole chemistry department committed to open source textbooks.”


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