Advocating for Education in Puerto Rico | The Washington Center

Advocating for Education in Puerto Rico

With so many activities in the nation's capital, one can miss out on great opportunities to discuss issues you really care about. A word you will hear a lot during your time in Washington D.C. is “advocacy.” This is when a person, organization or group participates in activities to influence the decision-making process and public opinion on any given topic.

 

There are different ways of advocating for a cause, from giving a speech, to lobbying in Congress and participating in demonstrations. In the course of history, great social changes were achieved by raising awareness and talking about the issues.

 

In the spirit of advocacy, I decided to dedicate a few words in my blog to what’s happening at my university, the University of Puerto Rico (UPR). The University is the main higher education project of the government of Puerto Rico. It consists of eleven campuses around the island and almost 60,000 students. For years, this institution has been the cornerstone of Puerto Rican leadership and idea development. Today, we sit at the crossroads where its foundation is being shaken, almost to the point of collapse.

Puerto Rican students telling tourists about the situation with the University and the fiscal crisis.

 

As you may or may not know, Puerto Rico is going through a difficult financial crisis. This economic problem, in addition to the strange political relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States, has led Congress to impose an oversight board on the local government.

 

Supposedly, this is to give Puerto Rico the resources to “restructure its debt and stay in a bankruptcy-like state to make sure the island can comply with its fiscal obligations." In reality, this represents a real struggle for the labor force, education and healthcare system, as they are in the middle ground periled between the people’s interests and bond holders or hedge fund interest.

 

This complex situation has touched the heart of the University because the oversight board wants to impose a $300 million budget cut of the fiscal plan of the local government. A few days ago students from every campus of the UPR went to the streets of the Puerto Rican Capitol Building in protest of the budget cuts and opposing any measures that would hinder the mission of this academic institution. Campuses were closed by the students and professors, and yet Governor Rosselló still refuses to sit at the negotiating table with the college community to talk about the future of our University.

 

A brief view of student demonstrations in Puerto Rico. Credit: Josean Bosque Serrano, 2017.

 

For almost two years, I’ve participated actively in the Student General Council, and I know the hardships of student strikes. I’ve sat by the campus gates for days at a time, and I’ve witnessed what talking about the issues can accomplish. I’ve seen students come up with great ideas to mitigate the impact and to reform our college system, only to be dismissed by political leaders as angry protesters.

 

Now, how can you get involved with things happening far from D.C.? Just by talking about it. Make people think about it, and you’ll start seeing change.

 

From Washington D.C., we let our classmates know that we stand by them.

 

A few of the TWC interns from Puerto Rico went to the U.S. Capitol to show our solidarity to our classmates and engage with people, bystanders and tourists to let them know what is happening to our college system and government. I want to use this space to reiterate to my colleagues back at home that I stand with them.

 

More than anything else, I invite you to find a cause and become a proactive advocate during your time in D.C. or back at home. I’ll leave with the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

 

Until next week,

-Daniel

 

Read my previous blog posts and be sure to follow the movement in the University of Puerto Rico through student's media sources: Diálogo UPR, Tinta Digital and Pulso Estudiantil.

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