February 19, 2008

New coalition seeks to unite Chicago student campuses

Hoping to organize and unite student bodies from universities and colleges across the city, the Coalition of Chicago Colleges (CCC), a new group founded by U of C second-year and College Council representative Jarrod Wolf, will meet for the first time on February 21. The organization, made up of representatives from area student governments, hopes to bring together related student groups and work as a cohesive political force.

Each institution must ratify the Coalition’s constitution and by-laws before becoming an official member, and the CCC will focus on fine-tuning its organizational structure during the first few months of its operations, Wolf said.

Seven other Chicagoland schools will also attend the first Coalition assembly at the DePaul Loop University Center this Thursday. DePaul University, Columbia College Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Technology, Loyola University Chicago, Northwestern University, Roosevelt University, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the University of Illinois at Chicago have already requested CCC membership.

“Any college with a campus within the city limits of Chicago or that has a day-to-day building within the city limits is eligible for membership,” said first-year College Council representative Julian Quintanilla.

The CCC is currently working to obtain a 50-percent discount for college students to use the city’s Metra rail system.

“We were contacted [about CCC] during the process when DePaul and our student government were trying to put together our Metra student discount initiative,” said Columbia Student Government Association president Brian Matos.

Although the CCC will hold separate meetings to negotiate with the Metra, the discount topic will be an agenda item for Thursday’s first meeting, Matos said.

Matos said that the discussion of Metra discounts was the impetus for the CCC’s inception.

“Once we started talking about even the Metra issue, it was a surprise to see we had other issues in common,” he said. Matos added that Chicago’s private schools share problems such as high textbook prices, the rising cost of tuition, and the lack of state and federal funding for education.

“Once you get all the college students talking to each other and you put those voices together, it becomes something that state lawmakers will listen to, and it makes you a political force in the state,” he added.

He said that student representatives from DePaul University and Columbia College Chicago hope to attain citywide participation for a global event called 60 Earth Hour, in which participants turn off their lights for an hour on the last day of March.

Meanwhile, the CCC is working to increase its membership. Wolf is currently speaking with interested community colleges in Chicago’s surrounding neighborhoods. However, he said that the Coalition is still considering credentials for membership. He cited the University of Notre Dame’s student government initiative to create an Ivy League–style coalition composed of midwestern colleges, adding that the initiative never got off the ground.

“After hopefully next year we’ll figure out a way to expand the program,” Wolf said. “But right now we feel that if the program is too large, it might collapse before it gets a chance to breathe.”

Matos also said that the CCC should expand at its own pace, estimating that it will take four or five years for the body to develop real political clout. But DePaul Student Government Association president Kurt Gonska added that the Coalition will be far from ineffectual in the mean time.

“When I began to advocate for a Metra discount, I had to start from scratch to organize local college students from other universities,” Gonska said in an e-mail interview. “At the very least, CCC will be extremely useful by providing a communication infrastructure that meets regularly to accomplish common goals.”

In the past, the U of C Student Government (S.G.) has emphasized uniting student groups across campuses. Wolf and Quintanilla say that University registered student organizations (RSOs) will benefit from the funding opportunities the CCC will offer. Current University policies only allow S.G. to fund intercollegiate activities according to the estimated number of U of C students attending the event. The CCC would enable RSOs to apply for joint funding and place reservations for a predetermined number of students at other schools’ events.

Wolf said that he hopes the CCC will serve to unite students not only politically, but also in terms of their extracurricular interests. The CCC may pave the way for anything from intercollegiate theater performances to college nights at the Art Institute, he said.

“Part of the reason why a lot of students don’t leave Hyde Park is because they don’t necessarily know the things that are going on,” Wolf said. “A long-term goal for this Coalition is to set up a website where all collegiate events in the city will be posted so that students will know what they can go to.”

Wolf will actively campaign to involve RSOs in the CCC after the first Coalition assembly, he said.