MASSPIRG Students Fall 2023 Newsletter

Kicking Off the Semester

Back in September, we held kickoff meetings on five of our chapter campuses to launch campaigns to protect our oceans, fight hunger and homelessness, get our state to 100 percent clean energy, lower the cost of textbooks, and more. More than 200 students turned out to learn more and get involved. Over the course of the semester, we’ve engaged more than 10,000 students across the state on our campaigns!

At UMass Amherst, 74 students attended our big kickoff event with guest speakers, Representative Mindy Domb and Andy McDonald, the Student PIRGs Director! Rep Domb spoke about the importance of students’ voices in politics and took a selfie with the students to celebrate the launch of our campaigns!

MASSPIRG’s kickoff meeting at UMass Amherst

At UMass Boston, more than 55 students came to our kickoff meeting where we launched our campaigns and drum up student engagement! Thanks to our keynote speaker, Kelsey Lamp (Protect Our Oceans Campaign Director at Environment America) who spoke to UMB students about the importance of Cashes Ledge.

MASSPIRG’s kickoff meeting at UMass Boston

Fighting Hunger On Campus

This semester, one of our top priorities was building support for the Hunger Free Campus Initiative, a statewide bill that would help end food insecurity on college campuses in Massachusetts. 37% of the public university/college students in Massachusetts experience food insecurity. The Hunger Free Campus Initiative would address this issue by funding eligible institutions to expand resources like food pantries, food vendors that accept food stamps, and meal swipe donation programs.

MASSPIRG student leaders Sean Simonini (UML), Cristian Orellana (UMB), and Mikael Kilian (UMB), pictured here, alongside other public college students, spoke before the Joint Committee on Higher Education in addition to hearing from the Commissioner of Higher Education. Students also met with their legislators to build support for the Hunger Free Campus Initiative so that no student goes hungry in the Commonwealth. Our hard work paid off when the Governor signed a new state budget with $1 million in pilot funding for the Hunger Free Campus Initiative!

And in addition to advocating for policy change at the state level, we also held dozens of service events for Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week (Nov. 11-18th) such as food drives, preparing meals, and fundraisers to give back to students and our communities. Just this year, we donated over a thousand food items!

MASSPIRG at UMass Amherst students collected 727 pounds of food for the Amherst Survival Center by partnersing with the Student Government Undergraduate Service Committee and sororities, Delta Kappa Delta and Kappa Phi Gamma. And Salem State University hosted a Civic Dinner to address campus hunger with the Greater Boston Food Bank, the Salem Pantry, and staff from Representative Vargas’ office.

Top: MASSPIRG students pictured outside Stop N Shop for the UMass Amherst Food Drive.
Bottom: MASSPIRG staff and student leaders at Salem State University’s Civic Dinner.

And to close out the semester, we met with Lt. Governor Kim Driscoll to call on the Healy-Driscoll administration to expand funding for the Hunger Free Campus Initiative in the upcoming FY25 budget. Students shared their personal stories and emphasized the need to increase funding from $1 million to $4 million in the upcoming budget.

Building a 100% Renewable Energy Future

To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, MASSPIRG Students are working to build a 100 percent renewable energy future, calling for passage of the 100% Clean Act – which would get our entire state on track to clean electricity by 2035 and clean heating and transportation by 2045. On November 1st, over two dozen students from across the state met with 12 State Representatives and Senators calling them to co-sponsor the 100% Clean Act filed by Representative Majorie Decker and Representative Sean Garballey.

MASSPIRG students outside of the State House at our lobby day for the 100% Clean Act

Above: MASSPIRG students meet with State Representative Sean Garballey to discuss renewable energy policy.

On October 11th, we held a press conference with our sister organization Environment Massachusetts underneath UMass Boston’s solar panels on the West Garage. The event celebrated the progress Massachusetts has made on expanding renewable usage over the last decade. Ashanti Mclean, our statewide coordinator for the 100% Renewable Energy campaign, spoke about the importance of students’ responsibility in propelling renewable energy growth.

MASSPIRG student leader Ashanti Mclean from UMass Boston speaks at a press event celebrating the growth of renewable energy in MA.

Protecting Our Oceans

This semester, one of our top priorities was to protect our ocean, specifically Cashes Ledge, an underwater mountain range 90 miles off the coast of Boston in the Gulf of Maine. It’s home to New England’s healthiest kelp forests and so many incredible and endangered species, including humpback whales, seabirds, and one of the last largest remaining populations of North Atlantic Cod.

Above: MASSPIRG students call for protections to our oceans

More than 3,500 students across the state took action by signing our petition to call on President Biden to permanently protect Cashes Ledge, as well as a coalition of over 150 faculty, student groups, and businesses. Our awesome awareness events included beach clean-ups, ocean banner making, pumpkin decorating, and trash monster making!

Two student leaders, Emily O’Brien and Elliot Reali also had their letters-to-the-editor published in the Cape Cod Times and The Salem News, advocating for Cashes Ledge’s protection!

Breaking Free from Plastic

Every day, people throw away tons of plastic “stuff”—cups, plates, bags, containers, forks, knives, spoons and more. All of this waste not only clogs our landfills, trashes our parks, and litters our streets, but it also washes into our rivers and oceans, where it can harm wildlife. We’re calling to update the Better Bottle Bill, which would expand deposits to improve recycling in MA.

In addition, students at Middlesex Community College, UMass Lowell, Dartmouth, and Boston hosted clean-ups at local beaches and rivers, diverting over 700 pounds of garbage from our waterways. Plastic bottles are also being repurposed into trash monsters to highlight plastic issues.

Above: MASSPIRG students take action to clean up and reduce the usage of single-use plastics.

On October 30th, Nick Vasconcellos, the Beyond Plastics Coordinator at UMass Amherst, spoke at the Better Bottle Bill coalition call (pictured above) to give updates about what students have been doing to show support for this bill. UMass Amherst students have collected 724 petition signatures for the Better Bottle Bill.

Turning Out the Youth Vote

Young people make up the largest and most diverse group of potential voters in this country. But, students don’t always have the tools and resources to make their voices heard. With the New Voters Project, we are helping students register to vote in upcoming elections.

September 19th was National Voter Registration Day! We spent the day holding events to get students registered so they could participate in this fall’s local elections, as well as the presidential primaries in March. MCLA students Alexi Moses, Jacqulynn Cohen and Charity Curtis organized a voting pumpkin painting event, helping to encourage over 100 students to vote in the November 7th primaries! Salem State University also helped register 54 students to vote at their VoterPalooza event.

Above: VoterPalooza at Salem State University with the Frederick E. Berry Institute of Politics.

The EPA’s National Environmental Youth Advisory Council

In addition to our state level advocacy, we also sent student leaders from across the country to Washington DC for the launch of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s convening of youth environmental organizations. Students got training from the Student PIRGs’ Political Director, Dan Xie, and our network’s Vice President and DC legislative director, Lisa Frank, attended the youth convening to learn about federal opportunities, network with other groups, and promote our environmental platform, and then co-hosted a reception for our partners at Relist Wolves and the League of Conservation Voters. They also attended a climate rally at the Capitol with our partners from the Climate Action Campaign.

Above: PIRG student leaders from around the country rally for climate action in Washington DC.

Making Textbooks More Affordable

It’s no secret that textbook prices are a rip-off. We’ve been exposing the textbook publishing industry and calling for solutions like open education resources (OER) for decades. This year, we released our 21st report on textbook affordability, titled “Open Textbooks: The Billion Dollar Solution (2nd Edition)” to assess OER grant programs and call for more free open textbooks in classrooms. We also worked with State Representative Mindy Domb to introduce a bill to fund OER resources in the state.

At Holyoke Community College, we hosted the OER Open Forum for students, staff and faculty to share their experiences with purchasing textbooks and how we can make a difference. Students and HCC staff members attended with Lily Stowe-Alekman, Rep. Domb’s staff director, joined us to show how people can submit testimonials to the Board of Higher Education to expand grant funding for open educational resources. UMass Dartmouth also has already nominated 43 faculty members for the Spring’s OER Oscars event, helping students to transition off to open and accessible resources.

Above: Students leave notes on how much they spent on textbooks this semester.

Northeast Student PIRGs Retreat

On November 11th, more than 30 MASSPIRG, NJPIRG, and ConnPIRG student leaders convened at Trinity College in Hartford for an east coast student leadership retreat! Students learned skills from running successful recruitment drives, planning events, and media work for their campaigns. It was so much fun to learn from students across other states!

Above: The northeast student PIRG retreat in Hartford, CT.

All Made Possible by the $9-11 Waivable Fee

All of this campaign work is made possible because of the students across the state who pay their MASSPIRG fee. Every few years, students at MASSPIRG chapter campuses vote to reaffirm their support of our work by funding our MASSPIRG chapter with the $9-11 per-student per-semester waivable fee. Students pool their resources together statewide with other MASSPIRG chapters to hire staff, such as advocates, lobbyists, and organizers, to work with students on issues that they care about and represent students where decisions are made—in Boston and Washington D.C.

P.S. If you’re interested in an internship with MASSPIRG on your campus, please submit an application here!