Students grilled mayoral candidate Andrew Yang on public higher education, police brutality and supporting disabled students at a Zoom event on Monday evening with about 61 CUNY leaders and student-activists.
“I want the funding to go up and the cost to go down” for CUNY, Yang said in a statement whose passivity and vagueness seemed to capture his approach to the issue. On three separate occasions during the 45-minute-long event, students asked him, in one way or another, how he would address tuition hikes.
Devashish Basnet, a junior senator at Hunter’s student government, asked Yang how he would address the gap in the Tuition Assistance Program, a state financial aid program that doesn’t cover the full cost of tuition for students eligible for the maximum amount of aid. Basnet also asked about ASAP, ACE and SEEK, three programs that provide financial and academic support to students who might not otherwise be able to attend or finish college.
Yang’s answer to Basnet’s question did not mention any of these programs but instead focused on federal funding. “If we can get federal resources, we can make a lot of positive things happen in terms of bringing the cost down,” Yang said, touting his political connections in D.C.
Basnet told The Envoy that he was disappointed in Yang’s answer. “Instead of tackling the core of my question (TAP, ASAP, SEEK) Yang demonstrated that he does not understand the nuances of public higher ed in NYC, and throwing federal dollars at it is literally irrelevant,” Basnet said via Zoom chat.
Enrique Peña-Oropeza, a senator at Queens College’s student government, asked how Yang would address tuition hikes and cuts to ethnic studies and women’s studies programs. Peña-Oropeza criticized Yang for leaving the city during the pandemic and raised up a handwritten sign that said “Fuck Andrew Yang.” Shortly after he asked the question, Peña-Oropeza was no longer in the Zoom call.
Yang defended his actions by saying that the reason he wasn’t in New York during the pandemic is because he was helping Democratic candidates get elected in the 2020 elections.
Jada Shannon, a sophomore at Hunter and a columnist at The Envoy, asked Yang about how he justifies calling for more police in the MTA given what she described as the NYPD’s “history of violence against homeless people, Black and brown people, and low-income people.”
Yang said he is concerned about the point Shannon raised but thinks more police officers in the MTA will help riders feel safer. “I want to do everything in my power to make people both be more safe and feel more safe,” Yang said. Subway ridership is down nearly 70% compared with this time last year.
Abigail Thomas, a disabled student-leader and returning student at City Tech, asked Yang how he would help students with disabilities.
“A lot of these institutions, frankly, have not been living up to their obligations under various laws,” Yang said with a friendly laugh. “When you have that environment, then you can actually change things relatively quickly, because if you go to these institutions and say ‘look, you’re required to make your classrooms accessible in this way or use technologies that everyone can use,’ they tend to be very responsive because it’s something that they can’t let lie.”
Yang said he learned a lot at the event and hopes to do another one with CUNY students soon. “You all are the future of the city,” he said. “Let’s fight for you all!”