Temple students climbed the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building on October 27, bright and early, returning to Harrisburg after a two year hiatus.
This is part of “Owls on the Hill”, an annual summit where students talk with legislators in Harrisburg to advocate for continued funding of Temple.
At least that’s the goal, according to Temple Student Government President Bradley Smutek, who says these face to face conversations are crucial.
“I think what helps is putting names to ideas, so that way when representatives are on the floor, casting their votes on whether they should reallocate funding, it’s not esoteric, it’s not vague,” Smutek said. “It’s ‘I met students who are going to be affected by this.’”
This year’s group was led by Temple Student Government, and they collaborated with other student organizations to bring more people together and brand their messaging, according to Smutek.
Most of the efforts were spearheaded by TSG Director of Government Affairs Gianni Quattrocchi, who says having a strong Temple presence was helpful in establishing relationships with lawmakers.
“We’ve shown legislators that we’re here, we voiced the interests of Temple University, the interests of the student body, and we’ve really been a strong, fighting voice for Temple University today,” Quattrocchi stated.
Students normally travel to the Capitol in the spring, however this year students wanted to attend in the fall for a change. Plus, last year’s scheduled summit had to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The group began their day by walking through the vast halls, and visiting different offices to meet with state lawmakers and their staff. The students were put into small groups of two to three students, and were assigned 15-20 offices to go to.
Smutek said his sessions went well.
“Everybody we met with was really nice, really receptive to our message,” he said. “We believe in them to continue supporting Temple and our funding.”
Temple currently receives approximately $158.2 million from the State of Pennsylvania, which helps keep tuition costs low, according to Temple’s Office of Government Affairs and Civic Engagement.
It’s critical that the commonwealth continues to support and fund Temple, according to TSG’s Chief External Services Officer Jacob Golden. He says that not only does funding support in-state students, but out of state students as well.
“If we lose this funding, all of our tuition goes up,” Golden said. “If our prices end up going up, that’s going to decrease the amount of people that can attend the university, which is going to create a cycle of increasing costs,” adding that “those costs and a less educated workforce going forward, wouldn’t just be bad for Temple, it would be bad for the entire commonwealth.”
In addition to visiting with members of the general assembly, the Temple students met State Rep. Mike Zabel, Sen. Jay Costa and Sen. Christine Tartaglione, who serves on Temple’s Board of Trustees. They were also greeted by former Rep. George Kenney, who now serves as Associate Vice President and Senior Advisor for Government Affairs at Temple.
They also visited Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s office, who made a surprise appearance and snapped pictures with many of the students.
After their sessions, all the students spent time exploring the Capitol, learning about its history and snapping photos of its architecture.
Along the way, students ran into some Temple alumni who now work on the Hill, including State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who had nothing but compliments for his alma mater.
“To see students on the Hill here today, talking about what’s happening at the university, talking about the investments that need to be made from the general assembly, it makes me feel really good,” Kenyatta said. “It is a part of how this legislative process actually works.”
Kenyatta added that these kinds of discussions are necessary to push the conversation forward.
“People have to recognize you have to do a lot more than vote, and this kind of citizen advocacy is exactly what makes government operate in the way I think it should,” he said.
In terms of what’s next, both students and legislators want to see action on the Hill.
Kenyatta says he’s always been an advocate for investment in education and hopes his colleagues will pay attention.
“My hope is that that message is getting through, education and investing in education is critical,” Kenyatta said. “I hope that folks are listening.”
The group of students are planning to return to the State Capitol in the spring after Governor Tom Wolf presents his budget for the next fiscal year. Students will return once more to share their personal testimonies and advocate for the commonwealth’s investment in the university.