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Debating for Democracy

Raul Matta has been associated with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker group engaged in addressing the root causes of poverty, injustice, and war, for more than a decade. In 2005 he was chosen to be a leader in the group’s military counter-recruitment program, which goes to high schools and educates students about the realities of military service. He still remembers his first visit to Holyoke High School, accompanying two older members of the AFSC.

Raul Matta
“I was not prepared to share information like they were, but students came up to me and spoke to me first,” he said. “My work was helped by my ability to speak Spanish. I found that a large number of students in Holyoke spoke two languages, primarily Spanish.”

Once the high school students started opening up to him, Matta found that many believed joining the military was the only way they could afford college. The fact that military recruiters were guiding them through the financial aid application process, something few other organizations offered, led him to develop a similar service backed by Hampshire. The college’s Community Partnerships for Social Change program now sends several Hampshire students to Holyoke High School each week during January to help answer financial aid questions.

Based on the success of that project, Matta was among student leaders selected to present proposed solutions to national problems to a legislative committee in April 2008 in New York City. He spoke at the Debating for Democracy conference, which was sponsored by Project Pericles, a nonprofit group that encourages social involvement among college students. Matta argued that the Military Selective Service Act unfairly targets lower-income males, as federal financial aid cannot be received without registering for selective service.

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