Members of ASUWT met with Representative Derek Kilmer to discuss problems and inhibiting factors which college students face — and especially which UW Tacoma students face. The dialogue, held on Oct. 11, covered such topics as mental health resources, food insecurities, parking around campus and support for recently graduated students, among other talking points.
Kilmer, a native Washingtonian and member of the Democratic party, represents the 6th District of Washington State in the U.S. House of Representatives. His district covers all of the Olympic Peninsula, most of the Kitsap Peninsula and most of the city of Tacoma.
One of the main discussion points ASUWT brought to Kilmer was with mental health and mental health services around campus. Student leaders shared that there have been steps made to improve student access to councilors, such as permitting more than three visits a quarter now, but that more steps need to be taken. Student leaders wanted to see more access being given to recent alumni as well as more councilors who accurately represent the diversity of UWT’s campus.
Kilmer shared that access to mental health resources was one of the biggest concerns students and educators had shared with him.
“It’s important that we get rid of the stigma of receiving treatment for mental health problems,” Kilmer said. “Mental health came up as a problem with all four of the other campuses I have visited this week. I cannot go to a K-12 school without mental health being brought up within the first five minutes.”
The rising costs of student loans and how students can afford tuition was another major talking point. Student leaders mentioned how student debt continues to increase. Kilmer responded that there is currently a House Bill — called the “Pell Plus Act of 2019” — that he is sponsoring which would amend the Higher Education Act 1965 and establish the Pell Plus program. This program would, in short, allow eligible students in an eligible institution to triple their Pell Grant amount.
“Part of the reason we work on these issues is to improve access to higher education,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer and student leaders also talked about the problem of food insecurity. Kilmer said that there are food insecurity problems all around the 6th District. Recently, there have been proposed changes at the federal level to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Those changes, which would eliminate automatic qualification if they receive support from other federal programs, would potentially reduce the total amount of people eligible for the program by 3.6 million.
One of the requirements for students in higher education to qualify for Basic Food, Washington State’s SNAP program, is to work for 20 hours a week. Student leaders expressed concern that under the current 19.5 hour for student employees at UWT, students do not qualify for food assistance programs as a student employee alone.
The problem of parking around Tacoma, and especially parking around UWT, was discussed. With this talk, Kilmer placed an emphasis on Washington State’s need to improve its public transportation system, and especially support the light rail systems in Tacoma and Seattle.
“Our state is behind in how we developed our mass transit,” Kilmer said. “I’d rather focus on moving people than moving cars.”
Kilmer also mentioned that an upcoming initiative could place much of the funding for mass transportation projects in jeopardy. The initiative, I-976, would limit the tax on annual vehicle license fees, commonly known as car tabs, to $30. Mass transit projects like the light rail expansions for Seattle and Tacoma rely on vehicle excise taxes collected within King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties. The $30 car tabs would cut state funding by $1.9 billion, according to Washington’s Office of Financial Management.
Other topics touched upon included recent imprisonment of Uyghurs in concentration camps by the Chinese government in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, the problems that Native Americans face in reclaiming their heritage from the trauma of American Indian Boarding Schools and the different bills which have been approved in the House of Representatives, but have not gone through the Senate due to never being brought to the Senate floor. Kilmer remarked that many of the bills passed by the Democrat controlled House die in Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s “bill graveyard.”
Despite this, though, Kilmer provided a lasting message to the student leaders about change.
“Keep at it making a difference,” Kilmer said. “Not just at the university level, but at the city level, at the state level, and especially at the national level.”
ASUWT’s Director of Student Technology John Nguyen believed that Kilmer’s visit to UWT was an important one.
“It was great to meet with Representative Kilmer,” Nguyen said. “He was really interested and cared about our district, and our students.”