Due to interest in student rights and advocacy on campus, Carnegie Mellon will found the first chapter of the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) organization in the state of Pennsylvania.
Student PIRGs is a student-funded, nonpartisan, and nonprofit organization that “gives students the skills and opportunity to practice effective citizenship,” according to the Student PIRGs website.
Representatives from Student PIRGs have set up tables on campus since the beginning of this school year in order to encourage students to register to vote.
The student interest garnered from tabling became the basis for a Carnegie Mellon chapter of the organization.
Satvika Neti, a first-year in the Science and Humanities Scholars program and head of Carnegie Mellon’s Student PIRG chapter, helped to start the club because although she wants to vote, she will not be of voting age this fall.
Neti said, “Even though I won’t be able to vote in this election, I’m still really invested in it. So I wanted to make sure that other people had the chance that I wouldn’t, and I feel that by helping people to vote, I’m doing much more than I would with my one vote anyway.” The Student PIRG club consists of around 30 members, ranging from first-years to seniors.
They are currently focusing on the new voters project until the election and then will focus on social initiatives, including equal rights for women and the decreasing of textbook rates and tuition.
Bradley Hodge, an undeclared first-year in the Carnegie Institute of Technology, did not originally intend to vote.
However, with Student PIRGs, he became interested and began to get involved.
Hodge said, “Sometimes you don’t care because you think, ‘My vote’s not going to matter,’ but especially for Pennsylvania, as a swing state, it’s really important. You see these old guys in government and you think, ‘They’re not in tune with my ideas and they’re not going to be able to represent me,’ but if you get students out in force, you can get them to be a driving force for what they want in government.”
According to Daniel Walker-Murray, a campus organizer for Student PIRGs, youth voter turnout has increased by about 21 percent since the last presidential election, and the number of students who claim they are intellectually involved with the election has increased by 13 percent.
Neti cited progress with student rights as a reason for this increased voting interest among college students.
“If we want more federal funding for student loans, we have to let them know. If we want to change the world, we have to let them know to start listening to us. One way to do that is by voting,” she said.
Walker-Murray said that Student PIRGs stopped the doubling of student interest rates in Pennsylvania and helped to pass the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act that will add $36 billion into the Pell grant program.
From Walker-Murray’s perspective, this progress shows that the Student PIRGs “are a force to be reckoned with…. If we just organize ourselves and can channel all of our thoughts and energy in the right direction, and once you give [students] the tools they need to do these things, it’s really incredible what they can do.”
For the past few weeks, the Student PIRGs chapter has set up tables on the Cut in order to encourage students to sign voter pledges. Students can sign a card promising to text their friends reminding them to vote.
Neti said the three-part system of voter pledging — which includes signing a card, calling by phone, and texting — is new this year, and she hopes that it will encourage students to go out to the polls.
“We are having some phone bank blitzes this weekend to continue contacting the student body because we found through our research that students are more likely to show up to the polls by four percentage points if they receive text messages from someone they know,” Walker-Murray said.
Compared to other college campuses which Student PIRGs has reached out to, Carnegie Mellon was leading the nation for a few weeks in the number of voters registered on campus.
“We were beating schools out that had six times the number of people that we had,” Walker-Murray said.
“Carnegie Mellon has about 6,000 people, and we had organizers at the University of Texas at Dallas that has about 36,000 students, and obviously toward the end of the student drive they beat us out, but we got a lot of people interested in volunteering to spread the word to their peers.”
Student PIRGs across the country have a 40-year history of advocating for students, the environment, and consumers, according to the PennPIRGs website.
Walker-Murray said, “The end goal of our organization is to find the things that students care the most about on campus and then work to organize them, and have representatives in the capitals so that they can have their voice heard not only on the school level but on a state level. We can start to make real changes for these people.”