For the first time in event history, students met with Maryland lawmakers entirely over Zoom
In an annual Towson University tradition, members of the campus community met with Maryland state lawmakers on Tuesday, Feb. 23, as part of Tiger Pride Day.
But unlike past years, the 22nd-annual Tiger Pride Day was unique as it was conducted entirely online. During the event—led by the TU Student Government Association (SGA) and supported by TU faculty and staff—students met with Senate and House members and their staffs through Zoom, due to COVID-19 pandemic protocols.
The event, which had more than 130 members join online, started with a welcome from Towson University President Kim Schatzel. And while the usual Tiger Pride Day scenes of a black-and-gold-decorated state Capitol building weren’t present, it was still an exciting opportunity for students to fight for legislation that matters to them.
“While I’ll miss getting to see all of you in Annapolis, and boy, will I miss taking the photo in the Rotunda, I know we will all be working hard to make this legislative session a great success,” President Schatzel said in her opening remarks. “Each of you involved in this virtual event are not just witnesses but are key contributors to this incredible inflection point for TU. Each of you add to the spirit and provide constant examples that support the phrase that I love to repeat: TU proud.”
There were also remarks from Vice President of Student Affairs Vernon Hurte and University System of Maryland (USM) Chancellor Dr. Jay Perman.
Perman, who celebrated his one-year anniversary as USM chancellor last week, remembers that last year’s Tiger Pride Day was one of his first official events as chancellor. Perman says he wouldn’t miss the day whether it was virtual or in person, and, while he knows the legislators would rather speak to the students instead of him, it doesn’t hurt his feelings.
“Towson University is in the forefront of preparing Maryland’s future workforce,” Perman said to the students. “You’re the ones who are going to get the great jobs, great occupations and pay the taxes we need to make TU better. Don’t let our legislators forget that TU is part of the solution in every way. It’s worth investing in you and TU.”
After being welcomed to the event, students observed that day’s House session of the Maryland General Assembly via webcam. This was followed by breakout meetings with legislators and members of their staffs.
Following a quick lunch break, students watched online committee hearings. The day ended with The Office of Civic Engagement & Social Responsibility informing students how they can stay involved and engaged after Tiger Pride Day.
Initially, there was uncertainty whether the event would occur. But after months of planning from the SGA and the Office of Student Affairs, they found a way to accomplish Tiger Pride Day’s conventional goals in an unconventional matter.
Leading the way was Paige Trzaskawka ’23, who serves as SGA’s director of legislative affairs. Partnering with the Office of Student Affairs, TU in Northeastern Maryland, the Department of Communication Studies and the Office of Technological Services, the event went off without a hitch.
“This experience was engaging and rejuvenating. From navigating Zoom links, finding all of the legislation, attending webinars and more, each aspect of planning was new to me,” Trzaskawka says. “In a way I felt as if I had a clean slate to work with, being able to mold and create the event in an online format.
“With the help of the Tiger Pride Day Staff Committee, we were able to create a step-by-step plan and work through each step at an extremely detail-oriented level.”
And while some might suggest just waiting until next year to do the event in person, it’s important for students to get in front of legislators because Towson University is a state institution.
Education and funding bills that go before the Maryland General Assembly and its committees often have a direct effect on TU and its students. The same is true for bills that help build or expand campus facilities.
On Tuesday, students focused on legislation that centered around changes that would help youth across the state.
“This event is our direct connection to legislators, to tell them not only what we want to see from legislation but also why we want these bills in the first place,” Trzaskawka adds. “It’s important for students to get a chance to make a connection with the actual legislation while simultaneously working on their communication skills to present that connection to state legislators.”
The event also served as a way to honor the SGA's milestone 100th administration. Current SGA President Deguene “Maman” Ndiong spoke during the welcome.
She recalled that during the SGA’s first administration, Towson University was a teacher’s college. Now as her staff celebrates 100 years, she wanted students to remember that TU is now an innovator in science, health care, politics, leadership, education and athletics.
Thirteen members of the General Assembly are Towson University alumni. And with countless alumni working in offices around the Capitol building, President Schatzel wouldn’t be surprised to see many of the students who participated in Tiger Pride Day following in their footsteps.
“Tiger Pride Day is a fantastic tradition that we have,” Schatzel said. “I’m very grateful that you lent your voices to this. It’s hard enough when you’re going to Annapolis, but to have it be mediated by technology just makes it a little bit more complicated. And you were all as poised as I ever seen. I’m proud of each and every one of you."