This post was updated Feb. 21 at 2:30 p.m.
Democrat Congressman Ted Lieu received an award for his efforts to improve higher education at an event on campus Tuesday.
Lieu, who represents California’s 33rd Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives, received The Dr. Winston Doby Impact Award for his support of students in higher education and his efforts to secure better funding and address factors that hinder access to education.
The Winston C. Doby Distinguished Lecture Series is an annual event that awards humanitarians and social justice activists with the Winston C. Doby plaque and invites them to give a lecture at UCLA.
The lecture series was created by the Academic Advancement Program at UCLA to honor Winston Doby, the program’s founder, for his work assisting first-generation, low-income and underrepresented students.
Charles Alexander, director of AAP, said he believes Lieu represents Doby’s and UCLA’s shared value of equal access to education, adding Lieu has been a champion of this equal access through his support of education legislation for low-income and disadvantaged students.
Alexander said he believes this event made people aware of some of the challenges students and universities face today, such as student loans, access to higher education and issues of student body diversity.
Lieu said he believes reforming the education, immigration and justice systems at the local, state and federal levels could help strengthen America.
He said he believes lawmakers do not fund public education enough at both the federal and state levels, adding he was very pleased that Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom’s education budget aims to expand investment in preschool programs and kindergarten in California.
“The single best investment a nation can make is education – not just higher education, but beginning from age zero,” he said.
Lieu said increased government funding will help more students go to college, but added he thinks local, state and federal governments should also take into consideration external factors that affect students’ education.
“The education system has stayed the same for decades and increasing government spending to address non-school factors like students’ eyesight problems can boost student performance and public education,” he said.
Lieu said he wants to make it easier for immigrants to access the same educational opportunities he had.
In addition to advocating for education reform, Lieu added criminal justice reform will protect low-income individuals from unfair incarceration.
Lieu said he was pleased Congress passed a criminal justice reform bill he co-authored to reduce sentences for nonviolent crimes, but added the law did not go as far as he would like.
“It was not huge, but it was a step in the right direction,” he said.
Lieu added he wants to reform the criminal justice system by changing how the bail system works.
“The bail system in the United States is a disaster,” Lieu said.
He said many people have been incarcerated because they can’t afford to pay the fees to get out of jail.
“Your freedom should not depend on how much cash you have,” he said. “Criminality shouldn’t correlate with cash.”
Lieu said these reforms should be a bipartisan issue, citing how the state of Kentucky has implemented similar bail reforms to what he has advocated for.
Nallely Almaguer-Rodriguez, a fourth-year architecture student, said she thinks it was interesting to hear from a congressman who is involved in the legislative process.
“Seeing him in person has demystified the process,” she said. “I liked that he touched on immigration and national security and gave his perspective on the state of the union.”
Rodriguez said she has usually only seen lawmakers on television and that it was great to see one present on campus. She added she was happy to hear that Democrat representatives have a plan to reform the criminal justice system.
Abel Valenzuela, director of UCLA’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and moderator for the event, said he thinks Lieu has been a strong voice in fighting misinformation on immigration.
“Congressman Lieu has stood his ground and doubled down on the facts when it comes to representing his constituents,” Valenzuela said.
Valenzuela added Lieu’s personal experience as an immigrant has contributed to his strong advocacy for various policy reforms.
“We can rest assured that Congressman Lieu, as an immigrant and who comes from an immigrant family, is fighting for his constituents from the bottom of his heart,” Valenzuela said.