Education | Interviews

A Nontraditional Tenure

Student leader Paris Griffin on the state budget crisis and Chicago State University

Zelda Galewsky

Paris Griffin, 24, transferred from Southern Illinois University to Chicago State University in 2014 when her daughter was born. Now President of the Student Government Association, she’s speaking up for her school, which will have to close or declare bankruptcy if the state cannot pass a budget by March. Griffin is also a Thurgood Marshall Scholar and a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and lives in Chicago with her family. The Weekly spoke with Paris recently about her plans for the future, her term as president, and her activism. 

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What did your path to CSU look like?

Well, I started college at Southern Illinois University. I transferred in 2014 to Chicago State once I had my daughter because this is where my support system was. It’s been great for me; I’ve found great support here. I’m the president of the Student Government Association, part of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and am a Thurgood Marshall Scholar. I live in Chicago with my family.

How does the Thurgood Marshall Scholarship work? What will you be doing with yours?

CSU is a Thurgood Marshall College Fund member school. There are only fifty-three of those in the U.S., so what it means is that I’m able to apply for different scholarships that other schools do not have the opportunity to apply for. So I applied for a scholarship [offered by] Apple [to] HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). I received a $25,000 scholarship for my last year of school this year and an internship with Apple in Cupertino, California this summer. I don’t yet know what that work will include.

I’m studying public relations. I would just like to work as a PR person for whatever company I’m definitely able to secure employment with. If I would be able to work with Apple I’d love to work with their PR department.

[Attending university as a parent] is definitely harder than going to school without a child, but at the same time it definitely pushes you harder to compete, to achieve, to have something for your child when they’re growing up—to let them know that you’re able to excel even though you have a child. That’s very important, and many of the parents at Chicago State think the same way about how they’re going to provide a better life for their children. The University is very supportive. Class times are flexible, we have online classes and family support at our university, and it’s just really helpful for non-traditional students as well as traditional students.

My term [as President of the Student Government Association] started in July so we’ve been dealing a lot with the budget. We also want to make sure students get more involved because our students are non-traditional students, mostly. You know, most of them have children and work jobs. We do have some traditional students, but because we have more non-traditional students we really work on making sure people get involved in things on campus. We make sure they’re aware of what’s available. We went to Springfield last semester to talk with legislators about the budget, to pretty much inform people about what’s going on, talk about current events, and really engage with the students.

The state budget is in crisis and CSU may not be able to pay its faculty in March. How is that playing out at CSU? How have you been involved?

We don’t really know what’s going to happen. All we can do is inform people about what’s going on with Chicago State specifically, because if teachers aren’t paid that puts them in a bad position. If programs are cut it puts students in a bad position, and all we can do is continue to fight for our university and inform people so they know. We’re spending money that we don’t have. There are less scholarships available, less funds that the school has to provide for students because they haven’t received the money they need. If our doors close, our students have nowhere else to go. For example, we have a big nursing population and those credits don’t transfer. I’m in my senior year and there’s nowhere I can transfer after my senior year with those credits so there’s nowhere else that we can go. This is our lifestyle and we’re fighting real hard to make sure everyone knows how important our university is for us, for our education in Chicago. Our community has invested a lot of time for us, our administrators have invested, and you can’t just pick up and go somewhere else after that. You’ll never be able to find another relationship, home, or family like the one we have at CSU.

Everybody’s just doing everything we can to make sure that we speak out, to make sure that we’re letting Governor Rauner know how important our education is for us. We’re making sure that we’re continuously doing things that keep the students aware of what’s going on so that no one gives up what we deserve, which is our education.

What’s the best case scenario? How likely is it?

A budget would be passed—that’s the only option we have. If it’s not, programs could be cut, teachers could be cut, our doors could close, and that’s this semester. We don’t even know about next year, so that’s really all that can be done. I haven’t thought about the odds, it’s just about pushing to make sure we have done all we can to make sure our voices are heard.

I’m not the only student leader on campus that has taken on this act [against the state] to make sure people are informed about what’s going on. We have the president from our National Panhellenic Council, Teaching and Educating Men of Black Origin and many other student leaders on campus that have decided to come together and make sure the students know exactly what’s going on. We’ve received a lot of support from our faculty, staff, and administrators, a lot of encouragement, and we want our voices to be heard, because at the end of the day, the university is for our students. If they don’t speak up about it, it doesn’t matter for the students. So we work together to make sure everyone knows this is important.

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