Student Government Association Votes Unanimously to Oppose Reaffirmation of ConnPIRG

Caitlin Doherty ’26

News Editor

On Sunday, March 24, members of Trinity’s Student Government Association voted on the reaffirmation of Trinity’s Chapter of ConnPIRG (Connecticut Public Interest Research Group). The decision to oppose their reaffirmation was nearly unanimous, with 19 members opposed and one who abstained. Trinity’s chapter of ConnPIRG is a student organization that aims to provide training and support to students interested in advocating for issues that are important to them. “We work with professional staff at colleges and universities to make sure our peers have the skills, opportunities, and training they need to create a better, more sustainable future for all of us. Our chapters provide the training, professional support, and resources students need to tackle climate change, protect public health, revitalize our democracy, feed the hungry, and more,” according to their mission statement. ConnPIRG leaders declined the Tripod’s request for comment.

This SGA decision does not stop ConnPIRG from remaining as an organization on campus or from receiving funding through the SGA Budget Committee if they become SGA recognized. Rather, this vote will suspend the “ConnPIRG Fee,” a $5 per semester charge added to every Trinity student’s tuition that the organization decides how to budget and spend throughout the academic year. For the 2023-24 school year, the Trinity chapter of ConnPIRG received $21,000 from the ConnPIRG Fee, approximately 90% of which it used to pay external and student staff. Once a year, Trinity ConnPIRG members vote on what the budget will be for the following year. Of their $21,000 budget, $8,400 went to paying an external ConnPIRG employee, who has no affiliation with Trinity but comes to campus to offer guidance and conduct advocacy training with Trinity student ConnPIRG members. $3,600 went to a Trinity student who leads the on-campus organization, and another $4,100 was paid to a ConnPIRG Students State House Advocate staffer for his services in allegedly helping students lobby in the Connecticut State Capitol Building. 

In the March 24 SGA meeting, Trinity’s ConnPIRG student leaders and the two paid external staffers were in attendance to advocate for their organization’s reaffirmation. SGA’s Vice President of Finance Cam Nielsen ’24 shared concerns that so much of their budget was going to paying staff when all other student organizations under the SGA are strictly prohibited from using funding to pay any student or outside staff. Rather, other student organizations must use their funding to hold events and support other organization-wide initiatives. Vice President of Multicultural Affairs Dansowaa Adu ’24 questioned how SGA representatives could justify allowing $21,000 of student tuition fees to go to student and external employees. “We have student organizations who do that for free,” she noted. “They do the work for free. They talk to advisors for free. And none of that is coming from a $21,000 pool… What about our students who are also doing active things for free, and don’t have to involve an external person to come in that is getting paid out of this pool?”

Traditionally, Trinity’s Chapter of ConnPIRG applies for reaffirmation every three years. If the SGA approves, the decision to include the $5 per semester fee for ConnPIRG is then put before the entire student body for a vote. The last ConnPIRG reaffirmation vote was in 2021, during which they received an 80% approval rate from students, according to ConnPIRG. SGA President Jake McPhail ‘24 noted to the Tripod, “During their last reaffirmation, they had full faith and support of the SGA.” This year is the first time that the SGA did not reaffirm ConnPIRG, a decision which was largely guided by the organization’s lack of impact and presence on Trinity’s campus and in Hartford, alongside concerns that student tuition money was being used to pay staff members from an external organization. While he acknowledged the ConnPIRG student leaders’ explanations that Covid has made it very difficult for them to stay active, he noted, “A lot of other groups, keep in mind, have bounced from Covid and have done a lot, especially without $21,000.” McPhail asked Trinity ConnPIRG members and the paid State House Advocate, who has worked with Trinity’s ConnPIRG for decades, “‘What have you done in the Hartford community, Trinity, Connecticut, the past ten or twenty-five years?’ I couldn’t get an answer.”

If they wish to receive funding from Trinity, ConnPIRG will have to become formally registered as an SGA-recognized organization and submit a request to the SGA Budget Committee rather than receiving funding automatically through the ConnPIRG Fee. “We encouraged them to apply for SGA recognition,” McPhail said to the Tripod. “We welcome that kind of [student] activism… We would love to have them continue an operation doing the kind of stuff they used to and are doing now. That would also open them up to funding the traditional way as any other student organization. The only thing that’s changing is their funding structure.”

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