Campus Network Looks Ahead for Policy Engagement

Aug 22, 2014Joelle Gamble

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has nine years of success under its belt, and is ready for more in its tenth.

“We know the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore. We want to pioneer a new process of civic engagement…” This is the opening line of the purpose statement our Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network staff articulated for this year. Its brazen rejection of the status quo and forward-looking promise of a new mode of policy change encapsulates the ethos of our network as we move into a new year.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network has nine years of success under its belt, and is ready for more in its tenth.

“We know the old way of doing things isn’t going to cut it anymore. We want to pioneer a new process of civic engagement…” This is the opening line of the purpose statement our Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network staff articulated for this year. Its brazen rejection of the status quo and forward-looking promise of a new mode of policy change encapsulates the ethos of our network as we move into a new year.

We believe that local, people-centric policy change can ripple into larger national change. We believe in the power of communities organized into networks to innovate, incubate, and promulgate impactful ideas.

This statement also pulls on the history of innovation and impact that the Campus Network has had over the past nine years. Founded on the conviction that student voices matter beyond Election Day, we have seen our members from across the country inject powerful ideas into the political debate and make tangible change in their communities. From starting revolving loan funds in Indiana to creating educational access in New Haven, from building capacity for non-profits in D.C. to combating student homelessness in Los Angeles, we have been and will continue to be committed to an unconventional and effective model of policy change.

Even in the past year of the Campus Network (2013-2014), students have taken enormous strides toward building a forward thinking, locally driven, and more inclusive policy process. Our presence has grown to over 38 states, with chapters at a diverse range of institutions, public and private, community college and four-year university. Ideas generated from our network have been read over a half-million times and our work has been featured in outlets like The Nation, Al Jazeera America and Time Magazine Ideas.

But, more than the power of the ideas or the prestige of the platforms which support them, the people in this network are what excites me the most about the years to come.

This first week of August, we hosted our 9th annual Hyde Park Leadership Summit at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. We gathered the leaders of Roosevelt chapters that have been around since our founding and the leaders of new chapters growing this year for a weekend of community-building, training and strategic thinking.  The overflowing energy, big thinking mentality, and willingness to pound the pavement summit attendees displayed was invigorating and holds the promise of a highly impactful year for our network.

And, we need that kind of energy and passion. We have a great deal that we want to accomplish.

  • We’re rolling out a new training curriculum to support chapters as they do policy research, organize their peers, and engage with stakeholders.
  • We’re pioneering a state-based approach to engaging young people in policy with our NextGen Illinois initiative and our new Chicago staff presence.
  • Highlighting that our network is about people, we’re investing deeply in our chapter leaders and national student leadership team, increasing opportunities for training, conferences, and publishing.
  • With specific, actionable projects under our belt, we’re launching another year of our Rethinking Communities Initiative. (Check out our new toolbox here.)
  • Through increased and innovative usage of online tools and social media, we’re building community amongst the members of our network. We recognize that you don’t necessarily have to be in the same room as someone to be connected to them.
  • As we approach out 10th year as a network, we’re making a special effort to engage and reengage our distinguished alumni. Roosevelt alumni have gone amazing places; we’re reconvening them to help chart the course ahead with us.

With our powerful team of national student leaders, an expanded level of staff capacity, and a little grit, we will continue to grow and strengthen the Campus Network to tackle issues today and build progressive leaders for tomorrow.

Let’s get to work!

Joelle Gamble is the National Director of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Curbing Campus Sexual Assault is Not About the Money

Aug 19, 2014Hannah Zhang

The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

The cost of sexual assault on college campuses far outweighs that of implementing bipartisan, comprehensive reform.  

On August 13, I stood with Senator Gillibrand, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and survivors, among others, at the Senator’s New York press conference on the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (CASA). Currently co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of Senators, eight Democratic and seven Republican, this bill represents a tough but common sense reform. It requires universities to designate Confidential Advisors as a resource for survivors, provide a minimum standard of training to personnel processing sexual assault cases, and conduct an annual survey of all students on sexual violence. For schools that do not comply with these requirements, this bill increases the initial financial penalty to up to one percent of their operating budgets and $150,000 (previously $35,000) for each subsequent violation.

As a student attending a university that struggles to combat sexual assault, I hope that this bill will hold my school accountable in the future. As an advocate for progressive change, I was proud to stand with the Senator on this bill that focuses reforms on survivors. 

While increasing financial penalties is a common sense solution, the seemingly common sense objection is that CASA provides no funding for colleges to implement surveys and hire personnel. This much is true, but is financial cost really an issue compared to the cost that sexual assault imposes upon young women?

In introducing CASA, Senator Gillibrand repeats a powerful tagline—“The price of a college education should not include a 1-in-5 chance of being sexually assaulted,” a statistic from the White House Report on campus sexual assault.

This cost far outweighs a fine that constitutes one percent of a university’s massive total budget or funds set aside to hire staff. For instance, Stanford University’s operating budget of $4.8 billion is more than the national GDPs of Cape Verde and Bhutan combined. While public universities arguably have fewer resources than these private institutions, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher gave the bill her full support on behalf of the SUNY system.

One critic argues that the fines and expenses of compliance would take money away from academic programs. Lawmakers, another critic writes, have stated that the costs would “compromise the education of a college’s entire student body.” These statements neglect the sad truth that campus sexual assault has already compromised the education of countless students. Stopping sexual assault helps campuses to focus on academics, rather than hindering them from doing so.

Talking about money misses the point. The goal of CASA isn’t to fine universities. It’s to incentivize compliance. By investing in the resources now, universities create a safer educational environment for current and prospective students.

Curbing sexual assault should be a priority for our universities for yet another reason. Sexual assault on campuses exists as part of a larger, global problem – violence against women, which remains a significant barrier to full gender equality.

Charlotte Bunch, founder of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership and speaker at the upcoming Women and Girls Rising Conference, said it best in 1997, “Violence against women and girls is the most pervasive violation of human rights in the world today.” Bunch pioneered the inclusion of gender violence in the larger fight for human rights. Her words remain true in today’s world, where almost a third of all women have experienced physical or sexual violence (or both) perpetrated by an intimate partner.

The U.S. has taken action on this issue in the past, most recently reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act in 2013. We tend not to associate the U.S. with developing countries where wife beating is condoned and women are raped as casualties of war. Yet the evidence that 20 percent of women who step foot on U.S. college campuses face sexual violence proves that our work is far from over. To stand as a global leader in gender equality, the U.S. must start by fixing problems at home.

Hannah Zhang is the Campus Network's External Engagement Coordinator for the Northeast, and a member of the Columbia University chapter. 

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Suspensions are Keeping Students of Color from their Diplomas

Aug 18, 2014Bassem El Remesh

Policies that strictly limit the use of suspension and expulsion in schools will help to close the racial education gap.

Policies that strictly limit the use of suspension and expulsion in schools will help to close the racial education gap.

Despite being ranked as one of the best states to live in, Minnesota still suffers from racial inequality. Even if laws and politics treat everyone equally, the educational experience is different for people of different races. In 2013, only 62 percent of students of color graduated from high school, as opposed to 85 percent of white students. Similarly, a smaller proportion of students of color will finished college compared to their white counterparts: 33 percent of white Minnesotans have a degree, but only 19 percent of black Minnesotans.

Suspension, studies show, is a key reason why students drop out of school. A study conducted in Florida found that being suspended out-of-school even once was associated with a two-fold increase in the risk of dropout. Moreover, each additional suspension increased the risk of dropping out by 20 percent. By the end of the suspension period, students tend to lag behind academically and feel very excluded in classes. As a consequence, that feeling of disconnectedness convinces students that they are not smart enough to continue their education and that quitting is a better option. Dropping out of school early can have tremendous effects on someone’s life, taking away employment opportunities and increasing the likelihood of crimes. A paper published by Northwestern University shows that students who drop out of high school have only a 46 percent chance of finding a job, and those who manage to find a job will likely have an income below the national average. Moreover, 22 percent of black males who drop out of high school are jailed. This means, if you are a black male student and you get suspended, it's more likely that your future will involve unemployment, working in in a low paying job, or jail.

Suspension policies in Minnesota schools are further disadvantaging students of color, and are widening the gap between them and white Minnesotans. Students of color have a tremendously higher suspension rates compared to their white peers. In the 2009-10 academic year, 37 percent of male African American secondary school students in Saint Paul, Minnesota were suspended as opposed to nine percent of white male students and only three percent of Asians.

Giving students an equal chance of an enriching classroom experience is an urgent necessity in Minnesota today. It is a first step towards bridging the educational gap between different racial groups and paves the way towards a race less society in Minnesota and the rest of the country. Other states have implemented policies to combat racial disparities in school suspensions. In California, the Department of Education issued a law that limits and specifies cases where suspension and expulsion are allowed. As a result, in-school and out-of-school suspensions dropped 14 percent, and the suspension rate for students of color such as African Americans went down by 9.5 percent from previous year.

Alternatives to suspension should be taken very seriously and the circumstances under which a student can be suspended should be limited and clearly defined. Some of the measures to avoid suspension in California include programs to resolve conflicts by bringing all parties together and offering incentives for good behavior, as well as in-school suspensions, school service, counseling, community service, detention, and mentoring (with a teacher or a counselor). These measures help the students have a stronger connection with their teacher and their school. By implementing such measures in Minnesota, we could begin to close the racial education gap.

Bassem El Remesh is a junior at Macalester College and a Roosevelt Institute Summer Academy Fellow. He was the Campus Network's Field and Political Landscape Intern.

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Thinking About the Women in Think Tanks

Aug 4, 2014Hannah Zhang

Women are still lagging behind their male counterparts in the policy arena, and changing that requires engaging younger women.

Women are still lagging behind their male counterparts in the policy arena, and changing that requires engaging younger women.

In recent years, several prominent women have replaced their male predecessors in top think tank leadership positions. Last year, Anne-Marie Slaughter replaced Steve Coll as president of the New America Foundation; in 2011, Neera Tanden took over for John Podesta as president of the Center for American Progress. In early 2012, Felicia Wong took over as President and CEO here at the Roosevelt Institute, replacing Andy Rich. While these women leaders are touted as examples of greater female representation in public policy, this is hardly the full picture.

Women are taking on leadership roles in think tank management, but men still dominate the thinking roles, making up the majority of scholars and “Senior Fellows” who influence policy. According to their public rosters, only a quarter of CAP fellows, 19 of 59 Brookings Institution experts, 20 out of 65 fellows at the Council on Foreign Relations, and seven of 33 Heritage Foundation fellows are women. In academia, an incubator of think tank experts, women hold only 24 percent of tenured positions at doctoral-granting institutions, and merely 19 percent of tenured full professor positions.

Perhaps contrary to common assumption, women’s lack of representation in think tanks isn’t due to their lack of academic expertise. In fact, women are quickly edging to surpass men in higher education. The World Economic Forum’s 2013 Gender Gap Report ranked the United States number one for gender equality in educational attainment among more than 130 countries. Last year, 31.4 percent of American women 25 years and over had completed college, compared to 32 percent of men. 27,300 men and 27,600 women received doctoral degrees.

Why does equal education attainment fail to translate into equal representation in policy research institutions?

Possible answers to this question range from women having more family obligations to self-selecting against policy areas like defense and finance. Other potential explanations include difficulty securing mentorship early in their careers and systemic biases.

A related problem is the lack of women in political positions, since many policy wonks rise from the ranks of former politicians and government officials. Less than 20 percent of federal and state legislators are women. They occupy only six of 23 cabinet and cabinet-level positions. If fewer women enter politics, fewer women join think tanks after serving their term.

We may be able to find a better answer in looking at a woman’s career ambitions, where a fundamental gap exists between young men and women’s political ambitions. The School of Public Affairs at American University conducted a survey last year of more than 2,100 college students ages 18 to 25 and found that young women are less likely to be socialized by their parents to consider politics as a career path and less likely to think they will be qualified to run for office.

Yet we need young women more than ever to step up and ensure that the next generation of American policymakers remains committed to full gender equality. According to a recent World Bank Report, women’s participation in government results in greater responsiveness to citizen needs and policies that prioritize families and women. When at least a quarter of a country’s legislators were women, laws discriminating against women were more likely to be repealed.

We cannot change existing structures in governments and think tanks today. Rather, we must invest in women of the future to change the gender gap in political ambition. Currently, a number of programs exist that encourage young women to run for office, develop female graduate students in public policy, or offer brief leadership trainings for college women. However, these programs lack a long-term support network to engage undergraduate women in public policy at the beginning of their careers.

With chapters at 115 colleges and universities, the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network is well positioned to fill this gap, beginning with the Eleanor Roosevelt Policy Initiative. This summer, the Campus Network is hosting an essay contest on gender equality, selecting six young people to attend the Women and Girls Rising Conference. In September, the winners will engage with prominent activists, officials, and scholars on the past and future of international women’s movements.

Following the conference, these individuals will continue to work with the Campus Network on promoting young women in policy spheres. To move forward with a vision of equality, we must tell young women today that their ideas are vital in creating stable governments and societies of tomorrow.

If you are a current college student or recent graduate, enter the contest here

Hannah Zhang interned for the Roosevelt Institute's Women and Girls Rising initiative as a Summer Academy Fellow this year. She is Campus Network's External Relations Coordinator for the Northeast.

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Education Left Behind

Jul 31, 2014Edyta Obrzut

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

“Part of what is at risk is the promise first made on this continent: All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself’”   — A Nation at Risk, 1983

In August of 1981, Secretary of Education Terrell Bell chartered the National Commission on Excellence to review and synthetize scholarly research on public schools nationwide, with a special focus on the educational experience of teenage youth. In their report, A Nation at Risk, they promised a comprehensive change to the students, their parents, and teachers. Years after National Commission on Excellence’s promise was made, The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Young Invincibles have banded together under the NextGen Illinois project in order to bring a youth-led agenda to state government officials. It is time to assess what has been done and what needs to be improved to completely fulfill the dream of equal access to the quality education and equality of opportunity for young people in the state of Illinois.

To that end, the NextGen project is hosting a series of caucuses across the state that offer an opportunity for young people to brainstorm and create a youth-lead policy agenda for the state of Illinois on issues that matter most to them. They foster discussion about state level politics and some of the most significant problems that are facing Illinois today. Through their participation, young adults offer their own insight about potential solutions to those problems that can result in positive change in their communities.

The NextGen project held its second caucus at DePaul University on Tuesday, May 27, where students pointed out several problems with the current education system in Illinois, including inequality in the distribution of education funding and challenges created by a centralized curriculum. In this system both teachers and students feel pressures created by the demands of accountability and insufficient resources.

Youth from the DePaul caucus further explained that demand for academic achievement and penalties for low-test scores have put extraordinary emphasis on accountability with both students and teachers being measured on their efficiency. The idea of consequences vs. high achievement creates a problem in which teaching in public schools is mostly directed toward test preparation rather than challenging and interesting classes. The lowest scoring schools are struggling with fewer funds and risk being placed on probation or being closed.

The use of standardized tests in high stakes decisions about the individual student is also problematic, as not all students receive an equal opportunity to learn. As recently as 2010, Illinois received a grade of F in equitable distribution of funds per pupil and in relation to the students’ poverty. Education funding distribution in Illinois has been assessed as regressive and unfair. And to make matters worse, in 2009, Illinois law makers cut assistance for P-12 education from the General Fund by more than $861 million (12%). Without addressing these problems, current practices focused on test scores and accountability may only deepen inequality. The top-down accountability model is shifting responsibility for the failure of the educational system from the state to the individuals and hurts not only teachers and parents, but most of all, kids. NextGen youth believe that market-style competition is not working well for them and that it is time to change it.

What can we do to get education back on track? Young people who participated in the caucus at DePaul argue that Illinois has to reevaluate its budget and increase funding for education. Students believe that improved support from the state to schools, granted on a per student basis, will be more effective. They believe that each student should have the same access to quality education and resources so youth can obtain proper preparation for college and competition on the job market. NextGen participants also stress the importance of early career exploration courses and financial counseling, which will help students in their life after high school.

Students’ commitment to the issue of improving the Illinois public schools demonstrates the significance of the problem. They emphasize that improving educational outcomes of students in Illinois requires an effective educational reform that can only take place by including parents, teachers, and most of all- youth into the policy making process. High rate of participation in the NextGen caucuses by Illinois youth proves that if we try hard, we can make a difference!

Edyta Obrzut is the NextGen Illinois Research Fellow for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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Leadership Wanted: The College Access Crisis Needs You, Mayor de Blasio

Jul 31, 2014Kevin Stump

Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

This time a year ago, New York City residents were knee-deep in sorting through the promising rhetoric offered by hopeful bureaucrats vying to become the next Mayor of New York City. "The Tale of Two Cities" – the signature campaign phrase that helped propel Bill de Blasio into becoming the next chief executive of America’s largest city – speaks to the severity of the economic inequality that exists in New York City and across the country.

Mayor de Blasio’s election was an overnight mandate for progressive reform, which greatly emphasized increasing resources for New York City’s schools. This year’s final New York City 2014 budget did take steps in the right direction by investing more in the City University of New York (CUNY) and programs like the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs and the Black Male Initiative to help the most at-risk students succeed while at college. These investments are necessary – especially given that 42 percent of CUNY community college students experience housing insecurity, 39 percent experience food insecurity, and 65 percent come from households with incomes less than $30,000.

However, let's be clear: the mayor is not placing equal priority on college access, a choice that is dangerously shortsighted and will be much more costly in the end. The programs and opportunities that at-risk New York City high school students have available to help them access college are just as important as the programs that help students after admission.

While most New York City high school students know that a high school diploma is no longer good enough, and acknowledge the need for a college degree, almost 70 percent of students believed that a high school diploma alone would adequately prepare them for college-level coursework. Yet only 25 percent of students are graduating college ready in New York City. Just 29 percent of high school graduates in the class of 2012 had test scores high enough to avoid remedial courses at the City’s public schools. What’s worse is that 74 percent of first-time freshmen entering CUNY community colleges needed remedial coursework in math, up 15 percent from 2002. Nearly three out of four high school students are either failing to graduate on time or lack the basic academic skills needed to hit the ground running at CUNY.

It is clear that the City should be doing more to help the most at-risk communities access college while simultaneously injecting the CUNY system with enough resources to effectively meet the demand.

There’s no debate: public higher education, while not perfect, is a proven and successful model to help socially and economically prepare young people to become life-long contributing citizens. However, the critical four years leading up to a young person's path to college can make or break a student’s college attainment. The Mayor should seize the opportunity and lead the nation’s cities and the people of New York to address this issue head on by jump-starting an inclusive public policy process that will lay out an aggressive plan for other cities across America to follow.

In addition to the obvious players like the NYC Department of Education, New York State Education Department, and CUNY, the Mayor must bring to the policy table local stakeholders like the College Access Consortium of New York and groups like the Goddard Riverside Community Center as well as national models such as College Track and key stakeholders like the Lumina Foundation to put New York City on a collaborative path to increasing college attainment and by doing so, tackling economic inequality.

To start, initial conversations should include how to best leverage existing government infrastructure and systems to think collaboratively and across agencies about policy solutions. For example, we could analyze programs offered by the New York City Department of Housing to integrate effective and proven programs in public housing facilities. The issue of college access is an intersectional problem and requires intersectional solutions. This issue requires Mayor de Blasio to employ a policy process that is inclusive, grounded in research and analysis, utilizes all the resources we have available, and injects even more resources to change this much-talked about but greatly under-addressed issue of college access or the lack thereof.  

Kevin Stump is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Leadership Director.

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Two Tiers of College Tuition? Not on This Campus

Jul 28, 2014Mohanned Abdelhameed

A two-tiered pricing system would create dramatic inequality of access to a college education.

A college education is believed to help those that sacrifice and pursue their education achieve a better life. However, the graduating class of 2014 is the most indebted class in history. Students will graduate this year owing an average of $33,000 for their hard earned education. This problem grows worse as students currently face rising levels of tuition at all institutions.

A two-tiered pricing system would create dramatic inequality of access to a college education.

A college education is believed to help those that sacrifice and pursue their education achieve a better life. However, the graduating class of 2014 is the most indebted class in history. Students will graduate this year owing an average of $33,000 for their hard earned education. This problem grows worse as students currently face rising levels of tuition at all institutions.

My school, San Bernardino Valley Community College, looked at a different type of tuition increase by volunteering as one of five colleges to pilot a two-tiered pricing system, which effectively gives an advantage to higher income students. Assembly Bill AB955 set up a pilot program of five schools to offer classes at higher prices during intermissions from the standard academic schedule, making students who want to finish school faster pay more out of pocket for their degree. Assembly Member Das Williams, who proposed the bill, argued in The Daily Californian that “at the start of the fall 2012 semester, more than 500,000 students were left on waiting lists and effectively turned away at community colleges throughout the state due to lack of availability.” If the pilot is successful, then the program will open to all colleges state wide.

My school volunteered to participate in this pilot, because following the 2008 recession, budget cuts had forced the school to cut many classes. The administration needed a way to accommodate students that couldn’t get classes they needed in order to transfer or graduate. Many administrators were for the program because they believed they could make more space by offering classes in summer and winter sessions to students that would have to pay up to 300 percent more per unit. For instance, our normal tuition is $46 a unit, but in order to take the classes offered by this program students would have to pay an additional $230 non-resident tuition fee and a $19 capital outlay fee, totaling $295 per unit. Since most classes are three units, a class under this pricing model would cost $885 as opposed to the usual price of $138.

Many students were opposed to this legislation. A student protest staged on November 14, 2013 at a meeting of the San Bernardino Community College District Board paused the offering of such a two-tiered pricing scheme for this summer, and the future of the program will be decided at a later date. A huge group of students spoke out against our school's participation by organizing and using our voices to tell our college board we wouldn’t allow our school to be privatized. There was no evidence for the assemblyman's conclusions. He claimed students would prefer the opportunity to finish faster at a higher cost, as opposed to waiting and using needed financial aid to finish their classes. There are almost 15,000 students attending San Bernardino Valley Community College, and 67 percent of the student body receives financial assistance. It is unlikely that students will be willing or able to pay out of pocket for their education, when these higher-priced classes aren't covered by financial aid.

Students also opposed the bill because the argument that students could transfer out faster was untrue. Under the usual model of one low tuition rate for all units, many students take classes year round. With the two-tier pricing model, students that can’t afford to pay the grossly inflated price of units in winter and summer would be limited to classes in fall and spring, essentially making poorer students stay at a community college longer than their wealthier peers. Students were also concerned about how students paying full-price for these more expensive units would affect financial aid. There were also concerns that when policy makers saw students paying the higher prices, financial assistance given to other students would be at risk of defunding, ending access for those less fortunate.

Access to college is meant to be a vehicle to success for those willing to work hard for it. This program would be asking students that have very little to pay more for school in the long run. Students' passion against this new law can be a great benefit for implementing change. There is always a beginning of a movement but what actually makes it a movement is the consistency to keep coming back and addressing the issues. The students at my school understand that the effort they showed can be a force. We can have a bright future by fighting for future students, who deserve the same chance those before us received. It would be a shame to stand idly by while students lose their opportunity for an education and a better life.

Mohanned Abdelhameed is the Vice President of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network chapter at San Bernardino Valley Community College, where he is studying political economics.

Photo by Amerique via Creative Commons license.

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White House Summit Speakers: Look Beyond Congress for Action on Working Families

Jul 24, 2014Julius Goldberg-Lewis

The White House Summit on Working Families showed paths to creating change that work around a gridlocked Congress.

The White House Summit on Working Families showed paths to creating change that work around a gridlocked Congress.

On Monday, June 23, Roosevelt Institute Fellows and Campus Network members attended the White House Summit on Working Families in Washington, DC. The Summit, which was the culmination of months of town halls across the United States, presented the audience with the stark reality that in order to truly help working families, there must be a dramatic culture shift. The day was filled with speakers like the President, the Vice President, and both their wives, and the CEOs of multibillion-dollar companies and startups alike, all of whom shared anecdotes about their experiences as the breadwinners of working families.

The focus of the conference was the need to change the outdated laws and culture that govern the modern-day workforce. Today, women make up 47% of the labor force, and 60% of children grow up in a family where both parents work. The status quo, however, leaves most Americans without access to any form of guaranteed leave, and even fewer with basic necessities such as paid maternity leave. Everyone has endured challenges finding a work/life balance, and as Vice President Biden explained in his own experience, not all employers are as forgiving as the people of Delaware when one needs to miss work to take care of a child. He pointed out that in his first years in the Senate he had the lowest attendance rate — but that his constituents gave him a chance. The summit challenged its participants to bring that kind of culture of flexibility and empathy to the workplace.

The Summit illuminated the two mutually reinforcing paths that are necessary to ensure that working families have the ability to support themselves and care for their children and elderly parents. On a policy front, there is already the Family and Medical Leave Act, which stands as one of the few policy solutions in place to alleviate the burden on working families. However, this only covers 60% of workers and only guarantees unpaid leave, which is often an unworkable option for families that rely on a daily wage. The United States is alone among OECD countries in that we do not guarantee paid parental leave. Paid leave is necessary not only to soften the financial burden associated with having children, but also, as was repeated throughout breakout groups and panels, because parents who take maternity/paternity leave are far more likely to reenter the workforce than those who don’t. There also need to be long-term policy solutions that will ensure that a working family can earn a living wage. The Summit reiterated the push for a $10.10 minimum wage, and invited several business owners who pay a living wage and provide paid leave to share their success stories.

Legislative change is not the only means of tackling this issue, and the Summit pointed out that as long as Congress remains gridlocked, it is up to businesses to implement higher wages and better leave policies on their own. Change at the business level requires that companies change both their explicit policies and their workplace cultures. Both in multinational companies and small businesses, it’s just as important for managers to offer paid leave as it is for them to take it themselves. While many workers in the US do, in fact, have access to some form of leave, workers often do not take full advantage of these benefits because of stigma or because no one else in the office uses all of their leave. The private sector must lead by proving that businesses can provide paid leave without hurting their bottom line (and sometimes even helping it), and by ensuring that people feel comfortable using that leave.

Working families in the United States face numerous challenges, from providing care to their families when they need it to having the resources to do so, but if there was one message that was repeated throughout the Summit it was that there is a tremendous amount of energy to work with. On the legislative front, vast majorities of voters support a higher minimum wage and family leave. While Congress has not taken up the call to action, cities like New York and Seattle have taken it upon themselves to raise wages and ensure time off. The energy around this issue must be channeled in every way possible: by pressuring elected officials to pass laws, by encouraging business to raise their wages, and by fostering a culture where everyone feels comfortable putting their family first. 

Julius Goldberg-Lewis is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Regional Coordinator for the Midwest and a Summer Academy Fellow in Washington, DC.

Photo by Pete Souza.

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Lifelong Roosevelt Connections Help Students Lead Policy Change

Jul 22, 2014Madelyn Schorr

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network model of students creating policy change has impact beyond the college years.

The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network model of students creating policy change has impact beyond the college years.

In 2004, when college students first started organizing under the Roosevelt name, I was still in elementary school. While they were busy working on national healthcare reform, I was busy watching The West Wing past my bedtime. Little did I know that ten years later I would be successfully starting a chapter of the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network at The University of Alabama, while my predecessors are pursuing careers all over the country and the world.

As Special Initiatives Fellow for the Campus Network, I recently spent a weekend with a group of alumni in New York City to discuss how to build our alumni program. I was amazed at how these alums – some of whom have been away from Roosevelt for years – are still dedicated to our founding principle that young peoples’ ideas matter.

I know how big of an impact alumni can make in the work chapters across the network produce. Students benefit from connecting with alumni because not so long ago our alumni were students, too. We have similar values, and believe that young people are capable of producing solid policy ideas. When our students and alumni connect it creates something truly spectacular: a group of people, spread all over the world in different fields of work, willing to collaborate and facilitate discussion around current policy issues, then working with their communities to come up with innovative solutions.

I loved getting to meet these alums and see the different things they are doing with their lives. They are working at nonprofits, going to law school, working on political campaigns, and more. Our alumni are found in every level of government from the U.S. Capitol and the White House to state legislatures to mayoral offices. They are still fighting to make the change they want to see in the world. And now, they're mentoring the new generation of Campus Network students and organizing their own policy projects.

The Campus Network has grown a lot since it was founded. What started as two chapters has expanded into over a hundred. We now run Summer Academies in four cities, and in the past six years our publications have reached half a million people. This new generation of Roosevelt students is looking at local policy issues to create an impact in their communities. By avoiding the constant congressional gridlock my generation has grown accustomed to, and focusing on local community development, we are better able to turn our ideas into action.

With almost ten years of change-making under our belt, the Campus Network is working to find new and unique ways to make being a Roosevelter a lasting affiliation. We have thousands of alumni and it is so exciting to build out a framework and vision that will help me stay involved far beyond graduation.

From the long laughs during our regional team calls every month to building a thriving chapter on my campus, I will always appreciate the relationships I have formed through this amazing organization. This organization is like a second family to me; it’s hard to imagine not engaging with the Campus Network and all of the people I have met in it after I graduate. If you have recently graduated, or are looking to reengage, email me.

Madelyn Schorr is the Special Initiative Intern for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and the Southern Regional Coordinator.

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Detroit's Revitalization Funds Could Re-Empower Residents, Too

Jul 9, 2014Dominic Russel

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

Through participatory budgeting, Detroit could bring its resident's hyper-local expertise to the revitalization process.

The city of Detroit is suffering. It has the highest unemployment rate of the nation’s largest cities at 23 percent, the highest poverty rate at 36.4 percent, and has been listed by Forbes as America’s most dangerous city for five years in a row. As a result of its shrinking population, the city needs $850 million worth of blight removal and cleanup. On top of this, Detroit had an estimated $18 billion in debt in 2013, which caused the state of Michigan to essentially force the city to declare bankruptcy in a desperate attempt to save it.

Detroit urgently needs funding for any revitalization efforts. One source that the city receives each year is in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the federal government. The grant is one part of the funding that the federal department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) distributes to metropolitan cities. The CDBG is the portion that must go to community development projects, including the rehabilitation of residential and non-residential buildings, the construction of public facilities and improvements, and more. CDBG budgeting also must include a mechanism for citizen participation.

Detroit’s current method for allocating CDBG funds is broken, as evidenced by both their inability to completely distribute funding and the lack of citizen involvement in the process. Each year from 2010 to 2012 the city failed to spend a portion of their CDBGs, nearly causing the federal government to recapture money and diminish future grants. Again in 2014, the city is making a last-minute amendment to their CBDG plan, reallocating $12 million to avoid a recapture. This was necessary, in part, because the city allocated funds to programs that no longer exist. The main citizen participation program is the Neighborhood Opportunity Fund (NOF), in which service organizations apply for funding from the CDBG. This process, however, is limited to organizations and leaves no outlet for individual residents. In fact, individuals have only one public hearing annually for the entire HUD program. The interests of residents are not effectively being channeled into spending. All of this adds up to a system in need of reform.

Detroit has the opportunity to use CDBGs to develop a more citizen-involved allocation process. This can be achieved by creating a participatory budgeting (PB) program, which empowers citizens to allocate a portion of their own government resources and has been recognized by the United Nations as a “best practice” for local governance. A Detroit model could be based off programs in Chicago and New York City. These programs include a series of workshops where residents brainstorm ideas and elect community representatives who turn the ideas into full proposals. Residents then vote on the proposals, and the winning projects are put into action.

In Detroit, the city’s Planning and Development Department can ensure projects conform to HUD guidelines and lead outreach. The department would target traditionally underrepresented viewpoints by aiming outreach at neighborhoods with low- and moderate-income residents, using public schools for outreach to students and parents, and locating meetings and voting stations in areas that are accessible for underrepresented groups. A PB process has the potential to engage Detroit residents and better utilize their hyper-local knowledge to allocate CDBG funding.

On the night Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan was elected in 2013 he said, “Detroit’s turnaround will not occur until everyday Detroiters are involved in this effort.” He has the opportunity to create a clear path to this community involvement for all Detroiters by using participatory budgeting to determine how to spend a portion of the city’s federal grants. Not only would this make Duggan’s dream a reality, but it would reform an antiquated allocation process that has nearly cost the city millions of dollars.

Dominic Russel, a Michigan native, is a rising sophomore at the University of Michigan and is a Summer Academy Fellow interning at the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network as the Leadership Strategy Intern.  

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