By Hannah Lathen/ managing editor
TCC students met with state representatives to tell their personal stories and address their concerns including campus carry and textbook prices as part of Community College Day at the Texas Capitol Feb. 7.
The day provides students from around the state with the chance to learn more about how state government works as well as meet with representatives.
Students Mariam Diakite, J.J. Eromonsele and Taylor Cattes met with Rep. Mark Turner, and the price of textbooks was one issue Cattes brought up.
“I saw that there was a large inflation with textbooks, and I was wondering if there was anything we could do about it to help students who are struggling,” Cattes said.
Diakite pointed out financial issues particularly for international students.
“Some students are really smart, but because of money, they cannot go beyond their abilities,” she said. “They cannot keep going to school, and that is really sad to me.”
Diakate also brought up gun policy and asked Turner what is being done to keep students safe.
Turner said he sent a letter to the attorney general on behalf of TCC because of the early college high schools on the campuses.
“You got high school students there on campus,” Turner said. “You also have a day care center for faculty and students, so is that OK for campuses to allow guns when you’ve got a lot of kids under the age of 18?”
Turner said campus carry is a real problem, and the day before he helped co-author a bill to give public universities and colleges the right to choose to opt out. A similar attempt failed two years ago when the law was passed.
“We are going to raise those issues and reassert the rights of college officials to students and faculty to do what is in their campuses’ best interest,” he said.
However, if nothing changes, campus carry is going to be the law, Turner said.
“I have faith in TCC’s leadership that they are going to implement a bad law as best as they can, but I think making your concerns as students and faculty to the administration about ‘This is what we hope to see toward where we feel safe,’ I think it’s important, I think they will listen and do what they can within the law to address those concerns,” he said.
Turner, who represents Southeast Tarrant County, discussed issues that were taking place in Arlington, including possibly setting up a transportation system for SE as well as UT Arlington students.
“At the very least, we’ve got to come up with something to serve those campuses,” he said. “There are students at both UTA and TCC SE who simply do not have means of getting to campus.”
If students are interested in this issue, Turner said they need to voice their opinion during the process.
“I would encourage people, especially if you live in the city of Arlington, you need to let your city officials know this is important, this is a priority,” he said.
Students Catlin Lewis, Carlos Mathurin, Junichi Royal and Adriana Rivera met with Rep. Craig Goldman of District 97 in Fort Worth, who gave the students an overview of what life is like as a state representative.
“We are a part-time citizen legislature unlike D.C., which is full time,” Goldman said. “We work for six months every other year, so we are only here in the odd years from January until May.”
During this time, all the business for the state will get done that will last the next two years, he said.
“We will get busier in March, and then in April and May we will be completely slammed because literally April and May is when all the work gets done,” he said.
Goldman was put on the licensing committee last session and hopes to be on it again this session. He is working to deregulate several licensing laws. His No. 1 bill this year is eliminating shampoo apprentice permits and shampoo specialty certificates.
“You go to a salon or a barber and someone washes your hair. They are required by law to get a license,” he said. “It is kind of stupid.”
Lewis asked Goldman if the state of Texas will have a program for individuals or families who cannot afford health insurance.
Goldman said that system is Medicaid, and that is where the largest part of the state budget goes.
“In this session, over 90 percent of our state budget will go to two entities, health care and Medicaid and then education,” he said.
Royal asked Goldman how comfortable he is with campus carry and if there have been any problems since its passing as well as his stance on the issue.
“I remember when they first passed concealed carry in Texas and everybody had to have a license to carry, like ‘Oh there are going to be mass shootings everywhere. All these people carrying guns!’ Let me ask you, since open carry is now law, how many people have you seen carrying a gun in a holster?”
When it comes down to it, Goldman said it is about public safety, and that is why he voted for it.
Goldman talked to each student about their personal stories and their journey to TCC. He said it is so important that if not only students but anyone in the community is passionate about a topic to come to Austin and talk with the representatives or attend and speak at a committee hearing.
“When a student comes, or a professor comes, or someone whose lives we are affecting directly, and they come testify, you’ll see members on the committee sit up a little more, pay a little more attention and engage more,” he said. “It means a lot more when that person whose lives we’re affecting comes and speaks to us rather than an association head or lobbyist.”
TCC board of trustees vice president Conrad Heede said it is important that students participate in Community College Day because it is critical representatives understand all the work happening on the campuses.
“They know the basics of community colleges, but they don’t know how it affects each and every student,” he said. “It is so important because those things will change minds. It is those specific details that encourage the legislators to go the extra mile for community colleges.”
Chancellor Eugene Giovannini said students should express to the representatives their personal journeys and the role that community college has in it.
“About 20 percent of our funding comes from the Legislature, and so they need to hear what that value, that return on investment is, how important it is for them to continue to invest in community colleges,” he said.
Student Montana Spencer said the biggest thing he took away from the experience was what a day in the Capitol was like as well how informative it was meeting with the representatives and their aides.
“It is important for college students to stay in tune with their senators, their representatives because there is going to be bills and policies that affect us,” he said. “If we like it, letting them know ‘Hey, we like it!’ that boosts their day, and it’s great for them. It encourages them. And if we don’t like something, we can say, ‘Hey, this affects me this way. I’m not too crazy about it.’
“That way, they have an understanding on how to better represent us.”