Student commission takes off, endorses tuition equity

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by Eric Ginsburg

By its second meeting, the new Greensboro College Commission is already roaring into action.

 Jamal Fox perched at a small table in the corner of the basement, wearing a short-sleeved, white city of Greensboro shirt as he watched an assistant city manager present the city’s strategic planning initiative. The city councilman chimed in briefly during the meeting, which ran for almost two hours — but for the most part he sat, leaning forward attentively, and listened.

Last week marked the first real meeting of the newly formed Greensboro College Commission after an initial set-up session in January and a cancellation due to bad weather in February. And after it concluded, as he stood in the east Greensboro parking lot under a streetlight outside the building, Fox beamed like a proud father.

Jamal Fox (background, center)
Jamal Fox (background, center)

The college commission is Fox’s brainchild, materializing after about a year of planning by city staff and coordination with area colleges. It’s one of the ideas he championed during his campaign, and if the March 24 meeting is any indication, things will roll smoothly for the body now.

The commission, which pulls together students from the area colleges, is an attempt to unite students across campuses and give them greater access to city government. Other council members have suggested a variety of ideas for engaging the tens of thousands of college students in the city, but this is the only significant plan to achieve implementation.

Fox, who is only 27, is more than just a father figure to the process; NC A&T University student and college commissioner Tyler Swanson called Fox “Pops” when he greeted the councilman after the meeting.

But for now at least, the bearded interim Parks & Recreation Director Wade Walcutt is shepherding the commission, chairing its meeting until student leaders are elected from the board.

The March meeting ran longer than most will, Walcutt said, as the commission played catch-up after a snowstorm in February. But in the meantime, several sub-committees met, reporting back last week about updates on a possible logo, writing bylaws and more.

The college commissioners covered plenty of ground during the March 24 meeting, but the most significant issue before the group was an action item presented by fellow commissioner Jose Oliva, the student-body president at Guilford College.

With help from a few community members, Oliva presented a clear argument to the commission about why it should support in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants in North Carolina, an issue he referred to as “tuition equity.”

“Greensboro has been a place that has stood up for what’s right,” Oliva said, referring to the A&T Four who touched off the Sit-In Movement. “We’re different. Greensboro needs to continue that legacy. We need to stand up and say, ‘Stop, look at what’s happening.’ We need tuition equity.”

Lori Khamala, who works at the American Friends Service Committee, was one of several people who also spoke in support of the initiative, pointing out that the Guilford County School Board already passed a resolution in support and adding that there is bipartisan support for this “really critical issue.” Oliva and Khamala said tuition equity would make it possible for thousands of talented North Carolinians, many of them who lived in the state for practically their entire lives, to afford and attend college, a shift that would be positive for economic development and the state as a whole, they argued.

But after the presentation, the commissioners didn’t need much convincing.

Swanson, who has also been very active in the Moral Monday movement, spoke first to encourage his fellow board members to “be the change we want to see.”

“Everybody deserves a chance and this is part of the [American] Dream,” he said. “All of our dreams are bigger than us, and that’s what makes America great.”

His motion to support the initiative passed unanimously, which city staff clarified doesn’t mean that the commission adopted a resolution, describing the decision as akin to a letter of support that would be passed along to city council.

Chris Wilson addressing the commission
Chris Wilson addressing the commission

The commission heard about a number of other items, ranging from Assistant City Manager Chris Wilson’s summary of the city’s history and municipal government to report on Greensboro Fashion Week and an invitation to design art for a temporary fence around LeBauer Park. But when it came time for commissioners to make remarks at the end of the meeting, much like city council itself, nearly everyone focused on Oliva’s moving and persuasive situation. Commissioners, Oliva included, said that the body’s decision to support the tuition equity initiative made them proud to be a part of the commission.

And while he may not have had the particular item in mind when he pushed for such an entity, Jamal Fox said the commissioners demonstrated exactly why he advocated for something like this in the first place. Standing in the parking lot at dusk after the meeting, Fox said he knows the city can expect great things from this body of adept young leaders. The only question really, he said, is whether the city is ready for it.