BELL TOWER BUZZ
HERE’S THE BUZZ ON:
By Jessica Weber
Debt Crisis Crusader
An Inland Empire native, Rooks, 22, is acutely aware of the economic disparity in the region, which prompted him to pursue a double major in political science and public policy at UCR and become active in several advocacy groups. In July, he began working with the Student Debt Crisis Center through a fellowship and was recently hired as the organization’s government affairs coordinator. In this role, Rooks has met with Congress members about student debt issues and organized the first State of Student Debt Summit in September, which featured keynote speakers Sen. Chuck Schumer, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and actress Alyssa Milano. “It’s been remarkable,” Rooks said. “I think a lot of times as students, you don’t think of these people as real people. And now I’m like, oh wow — it’s just normal people doing things that impact all of us.”
Addressing The Nation
Through his involvement with the Student Debt Crisis Center, Rooks coauthored an op-ed for The Nation in response to remarks from Speaker Nancy Pelosi that President Joe Biden couldn’t cancel student debt. “That’s just not true, so we drafted this piece reiterating that Biden has the authority to cancel student debt and why it should be canceled,” Rooks said. In October, Rooks authored a second op-ed for The Nation in response to Biden’s plan to offer free community college, in which Rooks advocated the need for debt cancellation in addition to free tuition.
Rooks, who is graduating this fall, was chosen in his second year at UCR to serve as the sole undergraduate representative on one of the chancellor’s strategic planning committees. For UCR’s Center for Social Innovation, Rooks worked on a project titled “Inland Empire Roadmap for an Inclusive & Sustainable Economy.” As part of UCR’s Lobby Corps, he worked on the Double the Pell Grant campaign, lobbying for expanded financial aid and Pell Grant resources. He now serves as the group’s federal lobbying and outreach coordinator. “Seeing how the legal systems and a lot of our policies and systems benefit existing power instead of people that are powerless definitely made me keenly aware of the fact that we need to create a more equitable society that focuses on the people that don’t currently have power,” Rooks said.
Rooks discovered a love for beekeeping after taking a beekeeping course at UCR. He now serves as a volunteer beekeeper, attending weekly meetings and assisting with hive maintenance as needed. “I love spending time with the bees. They’re so chill and mellow, and they bring me to my happy place,” he said.
Rooks became an international peer mentor in his second year, acting as a guide for international students new to UCR. He is also a mentor for first-year undergraduate mentees. Rooks has maintained a 3.9 GPA and was awarded a scholarship from the School of Public Policy in the spring. “It takes a lot of practice, but if you have the capacity to do all those things and be able to manage it, then it’s great,” Rooks said.