The Interview with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu
President Eddinger sits down with Mayor Michelle Wu to discuss her vision for strengthening education.
Part of an occasional series of conversations with local and national leaders about issues and trends in community college education.
Pam Eddinger (PE):
During the campaign and since taking office, you’ve set out a vision that’s changed the way many of us have thought about the meaning of public good in our city, about the social infrastructure that our students and communities rely on to thrive. For example, you’ve proposed a fare-free MBTA, a Green New Deal and rent stabilization. How are you working to accomplish these priorities, and how can our students get involved in making that happen?
Michelle Wu (MW):
While we’ve made great progress in making our city work for everyone, change doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve eliminated fares for two years on three MBTA bus lines, launched a Rent Stabilization Advisory Committee to address Boston’s housing crisis, and launched a Green New Deal for Boston Public Schools. As someone who never saw myself in government, I would advise students to get involved with whichever social causes and hot-button issues interest them. Listen to the people who will be most impacted by community issues and never be afraid to ask questions.
PE: Talk about your vision of education. We know you have two boys who are growing up in Boston Public Schools, and you yourself have attended college and graduate school here. What is important to you in your boys’ education, and how does that influence your vision of K12 and higher education for Boston residents?
MW: I want my boys and all our young people in Boston to learn in a safe, nurturing environment where they’re free to explore all the incredible opportunities BPS (Boston Public Schools) has to offer. I want them to be excited to go to school. On a city level that means building and maintaining school infrastructure, taking care of our educators, and ensuring that our higher education resources are accessible to all students.
That’s why we’ve launched a Green New Deal for Boston Public Schools, investing and planning to ensure all BPS students have state-of-the-art facilities that they’re proud to learn in. On the higher education front, we’ve expanded early college and innovation pathways, adding six new programs for BPS students to get a jump-start on higher ed.
PE: How do you see community colleges in this schema?
MW: Community colleges such as Bunker Hill serve a crucial role in making personal and intellectual growth accessible to everyone. Working with communities directly, they operate with an intimate knowledge of what is most needed. That’s why the City of Boston continues to pay for up to three years of college for low-income eligible students through its Tuition-Free Community College Plan.
PE: The last two years with the COVID pandemic must have been trial by fire for you as a new mayor. With the improving conditions, how do you see the City recovering? Do you have a set of priorities to guide us into brighter times?
MW: COVID-19 has forever changed our city, and I’m forever grateful for how we all came together in the face of adversity. As we move out of the pandemic, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make transformational investments in the City using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. By investing in equity, climate justice, jobs and health, we can improve this city for generations to come.
PE: The City has a longstanding commitment to fund free community college for qualified Boston Public Schools graduates. We enroll about a third of BPS graduates in an average year. What are other areas of collaboration you see between the City and the College?
MW: We have a lot of work to do in making higher education affordable for the average Boston resident. In my budget, I’ve proposed $6 million in ARPA funding to expand the tuition free community college and workforce training programs of the 21st century.
Early college education is one example of how fruitful city-college collaboration can be. I’d want to focus further on areas that underline the core tenet of community college: creating opportunities and opening doors for students of all backgrounds.
PE: Across the United States and locally in New England, you are celebrated as a “first” - the first Asian American woman mayor, and city council president - amongst the many accolades. Would you reflect on your journey and tell us what is joyful and what is bittersweet? What would you tell our students who are traveling that road of being a “first” now?
MW: Throughout my time in politics, I’ve heard people saying there’s no way, it’s impossible - whether it's taking on big policy challenges, or getting elected as a woman, or a person of color, or a younger candidate. It has certainly been difficult at many points but being a first also gives me the freedom to move differently in office. To students on that road, I would say to be true to yourself and you will be representing your entire community to reshape the future.
PE: Take us out to the end of your second term. What will you be celebrating at your annual state of the city address?
MW: City government is special because every day is an opportunity to make a difference for our city’s families, in ways big and small. My vision for Boston is that we should be the greenest city in America, a city for everyone where families can thrive.
This interview was conducted prior to the announcement of the MBTA Orange Line shutdown.