CMSA and Jesuit Refugee Services USA Pair up for Virtual Advocacy Day

by, Victor Franco & Alexa Schmidt, Staff Writer & Senior Writer

The annual Advocacy Day took place virtually on April 15, where students had the opportunity to meet with US congressional leaders. Students had the opportunity to learn about issues that refugees face, and to advocate for them by encouraging leaders to take action. The Campus Ministry and Social Action Suite partnered with the Jesuit Refugee Services USA, an international aid organization of the Catholic Church, for this effort.

The mission of JRS, according to their website, is “To accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees, and other forcibly displaced persons. JRS is currently present in more than 50 countries, addressing, educational, social, and emergency needs of the refugees and displaced persons they serve. They are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.”

Conor Reidy, campus minister in the CMSA, attended last year’s event, and participated again this year. Reidy was asked by the JRS to be the

point person to help coordinate meetings with the representatives from New York State. Representatives from Senator Gillibrand’s office, Senator Schumer’s office from the Office of Congressional Representative, Caroline Maloney from New York District 12 and Congressional Representative Paul Tonko from District 20 in Albany were present at the meetings.

Each Zoom appointment with the representatives from either the Senate or the House lasted about a half an hour. Although students and faculty did not meet with the representatives themselves, they met with the people in their offices, who are experts in foreign policy and in immigration and migration.

“We talked about three key issues that were really important that we ask them to advocate on behalf with specific asks for policies that they can support or policies that they can draw their support, away from in order to aid, asylum seekers and refugees,” Reidy said.

The first key point was to restore asylum at the US border, the second point was to protect refugee resettlement, and the third was to talk about supporting funding for refugee education. Marilyn Carter, director of commuter services and out- reach, has been involved with Advocacy Day for several years and echoed the need for access to education.

“Advocating for what you believe in is always good,” Carter said. “Advocating collectively for a common cause is even better. We all know that tuition is skyrocketing and the cost of textbooks are astronomical. Students need as much aid as possible to help pay these costs. It is even more prevalent now that the economy has been shut down for a year and thousands of people have lost their employment.”

Reidy believes that Manhattan’s participation in this advocacy will not only garner new relationships but also help students find their voice.

“I think that [MC] will be affected by just gaining new relationships with other Catholic universities and organizations and high schools throughout the New York area because we’re really coming together as New Yorkers to advocate to our congressional representantives, so it’s a wonderful way for students not only to make their voice heard on policy issues especially if that’s some- thing they’re interested in, like if you’re studying politics or international relations.”

“This is such a wonderful way to get your foot in the door at a congressional level by saying that you were a participant advocacy day like this and getting familiarized with the ins and outs of how Congress works. But I also think it helps to create new bonds across universities and across schools with places like Iona or Fordham, or the College of Mount St. Vincent that are also participating these days,” Reidy said.

“The school’s impact on advocacy is always a positive. Our General Counsel heads our lobbying and has the “ear” on what is going on in our government. To be informed brings knowledge and power. I believe we are moving in the right direction,” Carter said.

For Reidy and Carter, getting involved with social justice was their way of figuring out who they are, and what change they are able to make happen.

“I had some really formative experience on things like doing local community service, going on international service and immersion projects, and taking some really incredible community based learning classes at my university where I took what I was learning in the classroom, and had it enhanced and expanded upon and reiterated by what I saw in the local community,” Reidy said. “And I think those relationships and those classes made me really passionate about social justice at every level.”

A large part of Carter’s life has been dedicated to advocacy. Carter originally applied to law school to be a defense attorney, but was scheduled to start working for a college support program that ultimately changed her career path.

“I felt education would allow me to reach more students, help them when they stumble and encourage them to get back up. I grew up in Harlem way before gentrification and did not like what I saw. I knew then that advocating for others was the right choice for me,” Carter said.

Although this advocacy day normally does not happen online, participants were able to adapt and have a hand in local politics, while also having the ability to fight for what they believe. This event falls into Manhattan College’s Mission Month in April, in which the Lasallian mission drives much of the social justice work brought to campus.