By Evan Henerson
A question as simple as “Is everything OK?” can go a long way.
When he noticed that a student seemed sleepy or tired in class, Pierce College Communications Professor Robert Loy would often ask about that student’s well-being. Over the years, Loy learned of students struggling with issues ranging from educational needs like not having a printer to larger matters like not knowing where the next meal is coming from or not having a place to sleep.
“It’s important for us faculty to care about those areas of student need because everything falls into place when students are fed and when they have a safe home,” said Loy. “Academic success follows suit, and I think one of them cannot exist without the other. It’s one of those things I think our students need more of, not just at Pierce but across colleges in the United States.”
Given his interest in student welfare, it wasn’t a great leap for Loy to join the Student Support Committee (SSC), which he now chairs. During the pandemic, the SSC has been working with D’Arcy Corwin at the Brahma Pantry on a series of monthly meal distribution events. At the first event in January, approximately 120 students picked up eight pre-prepared meals. Partnering with Every Table, the food distribution events have flourished, allowing the SSC to distribute more than 2,700 meals to over 500 families. The committee expects to cross the 3,000 mark in June.
The SSC also acts as reviewers of applications for CARES Emergency Fund scholarships of $700 to $1,000. “We have given out money to a lot of students so we’re very excited about that,” Loy said.
His work on behalf of student support is a natural niche for Loy, who understands the struggles that community college students face trying to meet basic human needs while reaching their academic goals. A native of the San Fernando Valley, Loy went to San Fernando High School and CSUN, earning undergraduate and graduate degrees in communications studies. As a college student, he also dealt with food insecurity.
“When I went to college, I definitely needed help,” said Loy. “I’m a first-generation college student, and there were a lot of things I had to catch up on, whether it was financial services, scholarships, or learning about food support, which, when I was in college we didn’t have much of. I get to look at my experience and see how I can make the student experience better than what I had.”
Loy joined AFT 1521 in 2016. With Pierce College Chapter President Brian Walsh located in his same office area, Loy would often grab 1521 swag items like water bottles, keychains, and pens. Drawn to his first union meeting in part because of the free food, he soon started attending regularly and found his interest in the contract and members’ rights deepening.
From there, it was an easy transition to being a union rep and becoming heavily involved in recruiting new members. He is also a member of the Contract Action Team (CAT).
When he signs up new members, Loy enjoys the process of giving the new recruits a copy of the contract and telling them it’s their “Faculty Bible.”
“It’s a very important document that goes over your rights and it’s cool to let people know, ‘Here’s the protection you get for your membership dues,’” said Loy.
“I’ve been a very proud AFT member,” he added, “and I’m learning more every day about how the union can be of service to ourselves and how we can be of service to the union.”