New Jersey United Students plan to register 20,000 voters
New Jersey United Students met Saturday at New Jersey City University to discuss a campaign to register more than 20,000 students to vote in the presidential election.
NJUS, formed in February 2011, is an organization made up of students from 10 of New Jersey’s public universities and three community colleges that aims to educate, advocate and provide a collective voice for all New Jersey college students.
One of the group’s overarching goals is to keep education affordable and accessible, said Spencer Klein, president of NJUS.
“NJUS is a building process. This is the first time we are able to make our name known for the voice of students within the state of New Jersey,” said Klein, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
In an effort to get students to sign up to vote for the November election, NJUS delegates from each campus are trying a few different methods, Klein said.
One example is class and organizational wraps, where delegates speak to classes and University organizations about the importance of voting, while circulating voter registration forms and pledge cards, Klein said.
Delegates also participate in tabling efforts and “dorm storming” to get students registered.
The University’s individual goal is 7,000 registered voters. Delegates believe they have signed up at least 1,500 students thus far, said Pavel Sokolov, a NJUS voting delegate representing the University.
Sokolov, a Rutgers Business School junior, said at least 1,000 students signed up at the fall involvement fair.
He said other delegates have set up water fill stations, where they handed out voter registration forms.
Sokolov said he is working with the Rutgers Student Union, greek life, Rutgers University College Republicans, Rutgers University Democrats, Residence Life and other campus groups to get even more students to sign up.
John Aspray, the empire gardens national field associate for the United States Student Association, said he believes students can sway the elections.
“We want to send the message to legislators, that students, if educated on the issues, can have win or lose power over the elections,” he said.
The New Jersey DREAM Act, a bill that would, if passed, allow young immigrants the chance to become lawful U.S. citizens, was also discussed.
A diploma or GED is required to be eligible for the proposed program, as well as five years of continuous residency in the United States, for those without criminal records.
This act could make higher education more affordable for immigrants, who would be able to pay in-state tuition.
Klein said education is a right that should be accessible to everyone.
“Undocumented students in the United States often come from lower income backgrounds, so it is difficult to afford an education, especially when paying non-citizen tuition fees,” he said.
Klein said legislative change is in order.
“This is a way to bring education to all,” he said. “I truly believe that this is the leading civil rights fight of our generation.”
The New Jersey Dream Act Coalition serves as a support system for undocumented youth. Its main goals are to receive higher education and work experience, said Juan Pablo Orjuela, a board member of NJDAC.
“We have a relationship with NJUS and we try to come out and strategize together,” said Orjuela, a sophomore at Bergen Community College.
Orjuela moved to the United States from Columbia in 1994 and is an undocumented resident. He works to pay for his tuition, which for him, costs at least three times more than it does for New Jersey residents.
“A lot of us aren’t able to vote,” he said. “NJDAC is building allies with people who can vote, for people who do have the leverage. That is why I am here today, representing our organization and supporting NJUS.”
The motion to support the New Jersey Dream Act was passed with unanimous consent.
NJUS will continue to work with NJDAC and will support anything the organization proposes to them, said Andrew Gruna, parliamentarian of NJUS and a junior at Rutgers-Newark.
Additionally, the Honest Budgets Now Campaign was proposed and approved.
The Honest Budgets Now Campaign requires governing boards at each university to release a comprehensive budget at least 30 days before they approve one, Klein said.
The organization also aims to establish student advocate positions on all NJUS member campuses, he said. The position would allow students to experience judicial processes in their own campuses.
Kaitlin Cibenko, South Jersey recruitment chair for NJUS, said she enjoys being part of the student-led group that educates and fights for issues faced by higher education.
“It is such a young organization, but it keeps building and building momentum,” said Cibenko, a senior at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. “It has been a great learning experience. Before I became a part of NJUS, I hadn’t realized the effect that empowering students could have.”
Klein ended the meeting by addressing his goals for the next month and emphasizing the importance of student voter registration.
“I wish to spearhead voting registration at each of our campuses and reach each respective school’s goals,” he said. “This is the point where we begin to build power and make our names known in the state. It starts today.”