‘We Are All in This Together:’ UConnPIRG’s #InsideTogether initiative 


The newest initiative by UConnPIRG is working to advocate solutions to those affected by COVID-19, according to Kyleigh Hillerud, UConnPIRG communications director, ConnPIRG Stateboard chair and sixth-semester digital media and design major.

The initiative started around April 8, Hillerud said. Their biggest task is trying to encourage people to stay home during the pandemic. While staying at home may be difficult, the initiative is attempting to show that everyone is in the same situation. 

“While it is important that we are physically isolated, it’s important now more than ever that students stay connected, support each other and provide resources wherever possible,” Hillerud said. “We need to ensure that folks are in sound mental health, physical health and well-being, but that’s not possible for all of us, so we want to remind each other that it is possible to be physically disparate, but socially interconnected.” 

Prior to the start of #InsideTogether, Hillerud said their initial focus was a #PledgeToStayHome initiative on social media. Now, the focus is a wide scan of topics, including advocating environmental issues, mitigating hunger and promoting civic engagement.

“It was [named #InsideTogether] to really capture that, even if we may be alone in this time, we are all in this together and taking the pledge to stay home and stay inside together,” she said. 

 The initiative has seven different online petitions that ConnPIRG are circulating nationally. The ventilator supply petition wants the Trump administration to use the Defense Production Act to generate manufacturing orders for new ventilators to avoid a shortage of the life saving device, Hillerud said. 

“Healthcare providers should not be forced to choose which patients under their care get life saving treatment, and which ones don’t,” she said. “We believe it’s time to use federal emergency powers to ramp up ventilator supply so that we can double the available number in the next four weeks.” 

In correlation, the ventilator repair petition wants manufacturers to release information for hospitals to maintain the devices, Hillerud said. 

“As ventilators are pressed into round-the-clock use, repair and maintenance issues will increase,” she said. “While some ventilator manufacturers provide the service information that biomedical technicians need, other manufacturers make it hard to access manuals, read error logs or run diagnostic tests. We need to remove those barriers now.” 

 The Emergency Election Procedures petition wants every state to establish a system that would allow emergency, universal absentee voting for both primaries and the November election, Hillerud said.  

“If people are unable to safely get to polling places, states need to change their elections to accommodate the voters,” she said. “Fortunately a solution exists and, in some places, is already in use. In most states, if a person is unable to physically make it to the polls, they can request an absentee ballot be sent to their home. They can then vote at home and mail their ballot back to be counted.” 

The Freezing Student Loan repayment petition wants federal officials to provide relief to student loan borrowers, Hillerud said. Due to jobs having to reduce hours or eliminate positions completely, students may have increased trouble paying their loans. In comparison, the Meeting Student Basic Needs petition wants to release information for students to have access to housing, food, wages, computers and emergency grants. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting campuses nationwide,” she said. “Many students are wondering how this transition will affect their ability to put food on the table and pay bills.” 

The Expand COVID-19 testing petition wants Admiral Brett Giroir, the head of the coronavirus testing response “to immediately adopt a plan to make sure that everyone who needs a test gets a test,” she said. 

“Health professionals say they don’t have enough coronavirus tests available to test everyone who needs it, and so they’re left largely in the dark on the scope of the problem and how to contain it,” Hillerud said. 

Lastly, the Pledge to Stay Home petition is related to the first driving cause of the #InsideTogether initiative. The pledge is helping encourage everyone to stay home and help their communities, Hillerud said. 

Workers at Aria Diagnostics assemble COVID-19 tests in Indianapolis, Thursday, April 23, 2020. The company donated 50,000 kits to New York City and is selling the city 50,000 per week for the next two months.  Photo courtesy of Michael Conroy / AP Photo.

Workers at Aria Diagnostics assemble COVID-19 tests in Indianapolis, Thursday, April 23, 2020. The company donated 50,000 kits to New York City and is selling the city 50,000 per week for the next two months. Photo courtesy of Michael Conroy / AP Photo.

“We can avoid being exposed to this virus and spreading it,” she said. “To protect vulnerable populations: Our grandparents, professors, neighbors, and community members; to care for our community together; to flatten the curve and practice good social distancing; we’re pledging to stay home.”   

In addition to the #InsideTogether initiative, Emily O’Hara, UConnPIRG Chapter chair and eighth-semester political science and english, said that UConnPIRG has been working hard to make sure all of their other campaigns can continue to run. 

The 100% Renewable Energy Campaign organized a digital round table on sustainability, she said.  The New Voters Project has been working to provide information on voting for students moving back home. The affordable textbook campaign is having distance meetings. The Zero Waste campaign is working to transition to a multi-faceted environmental initiative. 

O’Hara said the feedback for the initiative has been positive so far. 

“Students have been quick to engage and campus administration and staff have been supportive of the updates and the work we’ve done, but most of the work has been in the hands of UConn students showing how they are self-quarantining,” she said.

Thumbnail photo courtesy of StudentPIRGs’ website.

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Rachel Philipson is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.philipson@uconn.edu

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