The United States Student Association (USSA) has been at the forefront of addressing the many challenges facing higher education.
From deep budget cuts in education by the Trump administration to renewed attacks on affirmative action, the oldest and largest student-led organization in higher education aims to “dismantle systems of oppression through our education justice framework,” said Joseline Garcia, president of USSA.
“USSA believes in education justice, meaning we will work and fight to dismantle barriers that prevent students from accessing education,” said Garcia, a first-generation graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “The barriers to entry at our institutions and the policies being led by the Trump Administration disproportionately affect communities of color and those from low- income backgrounds.”
The daughter of Mexican and Guatemalan immigrants, Garcia began organizing as a college students at UCSB, pressing college officials to increase the number of Latinos on campus.
Now, she and USSA are focusing their attention on how public education can become accessible in an era of cutbacks.
“With the current trends in rising tuition at colleges and universities, a disinvestment from our education – as seen through President Trump’s proposed budget and Secretary DeVos’ rollbacks – higher education is becoming more and more inaccessible and privatized,” she said. “This country needs to be investing more in education.”
USSA — founded in 1947 and now boasting dozens of chapters and thousands of members — has stepped up criticisms of the White House.
“We explicitly stand against any piece of legislation or initiative that is deeply affecting the community,” said Breana Ross, former president of the organization.
With mid-term elections on the horizon, Garcia said USSA “will be working to attain free higher education and expanding our vote program to ensure that students are able to elect champions of education and marginalized communities on a state and federal level.”
To do this, she said, the organization will continue to develop grassroots campus base chapters, run strategic campaigns and train leaders to “dismantle systems of oppression in higher education through a framework of education justice.”
Last year, the organization introduced the second version of the College for All Act to make higher education free. The proposal has garnered support from progressive leaders on Capitol Hill, including U.S. senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and U.S. representatives Pramila Jayapal and Keith Ellison.
USSA’s leaders were highly visible in the 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement.
“In many ways, our story is the story of the last six decades of the American student movement,” said Garcia. She added that in recent years, USSA has partnered with Jobs for Justice to create the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), an effort to connect students with their surrounding communities and help them form new relationships with on-campus workers.
“Few advocacy organizations have been as successful in adapting to changing times, and no group has ever educated and inspired to action as many students,” said Garcia.
USSA has attracted student members from low-income backgrounds and minority communities because of USSA’s work fighting the retention and recruitment of students of color, and pushing for progressive legislation such as a $15 minimum wage.
“Our membership has historically uplifted communities that are typically left at the margins, and intentionally worked to have the communities who are directly impacted by the issues to be on the frontlines of change,” Garcia said.
Much more work must be done in the area of diversity, she added.
“More than often, I am in rooms with decision-makers or partners where I am the only person of color and one of the few women. This is not acceptable and not reflective of this country’s population.”