MaryPIRG Spring 2021 Newsletter

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Moving Towards a Greener Future

Above: Campaign Coordinator Reese Barrett Testifies at an MGA Hearing

MaryPIRG student leaders made headway in tackling the problem of plastic pollution. Because we are the second state in the nation to ban polystyrene, which MaryPIRG helped push for in 2019, Maryland is already a leader on plastic issues. Yet, we know that there is still way more we can do to protect our environment. In January, MaryPIRG President Elect for the 2021-2022 school year Akshaya Balaji hosted a plastics week of action and skills training and in March our interns hosted 9 events to build support and visibility for the Federal Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act! 

Above: Students at our Plastics Week of Action at a Briefing From a partner organization

Addressing Student’s Basic Needs

Students have long struggled to access items that are necessary for their basic needs and it has only gotten worse with the pandemic. This spring, our Zero Hunger Campaign focused on making sure our community has access to food and other resources they need to thrive. A big project they were engaged in was helping our coalition pass the Maryland Hunger Free Campus Act, a bill which provides resources directly to campuses in order to address student food insecurity. Campaign Coordinator Ayanna Chambers and Intern Peter Wilschke lead the team and met with our coalition partners, collected student stories, wrote a testimony, and lobbied our elected officials. Their efforts helped the bill pass with overwhelming support!

Also, over the course of the semester they also helped to raise money for local organizations like the Audelia Community Response Team and the UMD Food Pantry and hosted a workshop on healthy eating on a budget. 

Above: Student Leaders Ayanna Chambers and Peter Wilschke on a Hunger Coalition Call

College Affordability 

At the national level, we’ve worked for decades to protect Pell Grant funding and increase protections for students as consumers so they avoid becoming victims of predatory practices from private lenders. Right now, we need Congress to take bold, bipartisan action to make life-changing degrees easier and more affordable to earn. Learn more here.

Pell Grants used to cover three quarters of the cost of an average four-year public tuition, but now it covers less than a third. Doubling Pell is an important step to restoring much of its intended purchasing power. We are working with a diverse coalition of more than 80 national groups to push Congress to double the Pell, and together we have a huge opportunity to make it happen. Congress has a lot of priorities to work through this budget season, and we need to remind them to invest in students by doubling the Pell grant. 

This semester, students teamed up with Student PIRGs chapters from across the country to hold over 75 lobby meetings around building support to double the Pell Grant. MaryPIRG Students met with the offices of Majority Leader Hoyer, Senator Cardin, Representative Trone, and Representative Van Hollen. 

Above: Student Leaders Micahela Bellis, Jackie Reyes, Akshaya Balaji, Greeshma Anand, and Anna Grace Cooley during our National Higher Ed Lobby Day

Protecting our Public Health

This spring we ran two campaigns around public health: a project to protect the campus community by spreading helpful information around the COVID-19 Pandemic and a project to stop the overuse of antibiotics.

Our COVID-19 campaign started the semester focused on educating students around best practices to slow the spread of the pandemic. One way they did this was through a Facebook Live event where interns Colin Fox and Mahnoor Anjum joined to spread information about best COVID-19 practices. As vaccines started to arrive, they switched their focus to offer information about how, when, and where to get vaccinated. Public Health Intern Alivia Saunders, MaryPIRG member Colleen Berk, and Campaign Coordinator Greeshma Anand hosted a Town Hall with Dean Lushniak, Ms. Reva Datar, and Tiffany Jackson from the School of Public Health about the vaccine rollout. Also, the campaign hosted a fundraiser for the Student Crisis Fund, which works to aid students during difficult times, such as during the pandemic. 

Above: Student Leader Alivia Saunders Co-Hosting Our Town Hall with the School of Public Health

Over 70% of medically important Antibiotics are used on healthy farm animals leading to a rise in antibiotic resistant diseases. These diseases kill over 23,000 people every year! To protect all of our health, the Antibiotics campaign is calling on Wendy’s, as one of the largest meat purchasers in the country, to stop selling any meat raised with antibiotics. Campaign Intern Glin Brower and Campaign Coordinator Akshaya Balaji hosted spring break days of action to learn more about the issue and build up visibility from the student body. 

All Supported By UMD Students! 

To tackle the issues we work on and go beyond just simply making our voices heard, we match student ideas and enthusiasm with professional staff who help to make our vision a reality. We have historically supported our staff through an allocation from the UMD SGA. This spring we ran a vote of the UMD student body to re-establish our funding and apply for funding… and WE WON! 78% of students who voted on our question voted YES to support our work. Thank you to everyone who helped along the way. 

We at MaryPIRG are incredibly proud of the work we have accomplished this year and we hope you all are feeling the same about all your accomplishments this year. It has been a long and trying year, but we made it!! Huge congratulations to all the students (now alumni) that graduated just a few days ago. 

To everyone, we wish you a great summer and all the best on your future endeavors! Please feel free to reach back out through this email with any questions or concerns. Take care and stay safe and healthy.