We recently interviewed Vanessa Cadavillo, President of the DePaul University Student Government Association (SGA), about her organization’s campaign to win funding for Illinois’ MAP grant program.

Please tell us your name and current position in student government. Please also tell us a little bit about who you are: your year, major, and any other background info you’d like to share.
My name is Vanessa Cadavillo. I am the current President of the DePaul Student Government Association. I am a senior majoring in Political Science with minors in Economics and Journalism. I am originally from Skokie, Illinois.

How did you get involved in SGA?
I first became involved with SGA as a freshman. I ran for the position of Senator for First Year Students in the fall quarter. Since then, I’ve run for the Senator for Second Year Students, Executive Vice President for Student Affairs, and President.

What have been your biggest priorities during your term as SGA President?
Throughout my term as President, SGA has focused on three overarching goals: educational accessibility, inclusivity and collaboration, and SGA’s role as an advocate not just at DePaul but also within the state of Illinois. These are only three of the initiatives that my Vice President and I ran on last spring, but they are the three that our other initiatives have tied back to so far this year. While all of the work we’ve done this year is important and valuable for its impact on the student experience, a major portion of our energy has been geared toward advocating for funding for the Monetary Awards Program (MAP), a state financial aid program that provides grants to low and middle-income students.

Please describe the MAP grant campaign.
This year our goal was two-fold. We started out the year advocating for the state to maintain the current year’s funding level for the MAP grant because we noticed over the summer that the budget had not yet been voted on. As the fall quarter progressed, the state still didn’t pass a budget. In collaboration with university administrators, we created a campaign to engage the DePaul community around this issue.

At that time, the Illinois Senate had passed a bill, SB 2043, that would essentially fund MAP, but we were waiting on the House to do the same. We held several MAP advocacy days encouraging students, faculty, and staff to contact their state legislators. We set up several laptops on campus to display the legislator look-up website and had individuals fill out letters to their legislators. Additionally, we urged students to use social media to contact their legislators and the Governor and further stress the importance of passing the bill using the hashtag #MAPMatters.

Once the House finally passed the MAP funding bill, we focused on urging our Governor to sign it. We encouraged the DePaul community to contact the Governor via phone, Twitter, Facebook, and the Governor’s contact tool on his website. After talking to DePaul administrators in student affairs, I stressed the importance of having a demonstration to support the bill. We worked closely with our Associate Vice President for Community and Government Relations to hold a rally outside the Thompson Center on February 16th, which is the day SB 2043 appeared on the Governor’s desk.

In addition to DePaul students, we had attendees from 11 other colleges present at the rally, as well as the media. The goal of the rally was to send a strong message that cutting the MAP grant impacts all Illinois students, MAP recipient or not. The event was powerful in energy and presented a unified community. It was extremely successful in sending a singular message from students and schools about the importance of higher education.

Unfortunately, Governor Rauner vetoed the MAP funding bill. In light of the Governor’s decision, DePaul University has stated that it will honor the aid funding promised to this year’s students who were awarded MAP grants. They will also do the same for incoming first year and transfer students in the fall who were awarded MAP grants.

Moving forward, we are still advocating for next year’s funding for MAP grants. We are currently preparing for our spring lobby day in Springfield. We’ve created postcards that students will sign that have facts on the MAP grant, why it’s important to Illinois, and why it’s important to DePaul. This year, we added a portion for individuals to answer “MAP matters to me because…” These postcards will be delivered to legislators when we lobby so that our representatives can read the personalized messages about why MAP matters to members of the DePaul community. We’ve had several MAP postcarding days at our Lincoln Park and Loop campuses; we currently have over 1,000 postcards collected and we’re optimistic we’ll reach our goal of 4,000 postcards. The main purpose is to get as many people engaged with our advocacy as possible and from there have both MAP recipients and non-recipients join SGA for our lobby day in the spring.

How did this year’s campaign compare to past efforts by the SGA to protect MAP grants?
During my four years at DePaul and with SGA, this has been the most MAP advocacy we’ve done. I don’t believe we’ve ever entered a year quite like this one, in which we were unsure if the state would be able to fund MAP grants for the current year.

What have been the biggest challenges with this campaign?
The biggest challenge with this year’s MAP campaign is that we’ve had to simultaneously advocate for MAP funding for both the current year and next year. We had to make sure we could relay the difference to students, faculty, and staff. But our triumph has been seeing how supportive and unified the DePaul community is in our advocacy efforts, as well as getting to work in partnerships with other institutions.

What advice would you give to student leaders at other schools who might want to run a similar campaign?
My biggest advice would be to utilize other student government associations and their leadership. It’s important to send a unified message to those whom we’ve voted to represent us. It’s vital that we work together to stress that issues like this not only impact one of us, but all of us. So my biggest recommendation to other schools doing similar campaigns is to work with other schools – if we can get the masses working together, that sends a strong message to our government.