The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Meet the WSU graduate student on Pullman City Council

Carla de Lira advocates for both Pullman students and full-time residents
Carla de Lira after attending an Association of Washington Cities conference for Washington public officials in Olympia.

Editor’s note: Carla de Lira speaks as an individual member of the Pullman City Council. The statements seen here only represent de Lira, not the Council as a whole.

Carla de Lira runs on bus time.

The daughter of a retired bus driver, she grew up taking the bus to and from school and her friends and family’s homes. As an undergraduate student, she took one of two transit routes — a five-hour route or a three-and-a-half-hour express route — between her home in Los Angeles County and California Lutheran University in Ventura County.

de Lira said she saw a lot of people like her, a Latina from a working-class family, on that express route.

Now de Lira is a WSU graduate student and one of two Pullman City Council members representing Ward Two of the city, which covers Apartment Land, Greek Row, graduate housing and other student housing. Among the causes she has advocated for since her election in January are sustainably funded public transportation, affordable housing, tenant protection and food insecurity.

“I know firsthand what it means to be underrepresented. And knowing how much more support is needed for someone with my background,” de Lira said. “And so, I think just being on City Council holding these identities is one way for me to uplift people who hold my identities.”

de Lira is a doctorate candidate in computer science, and she said she has been attending WSU for some years now. Like other students, she takes a bus to campus every day and has faced with whether she has enough food to eat.

She is a general graduate assistant and a member of WSU’s amalgamated local union, UAW 4591, formerly the WSU Coalition of Academic Student Employees. She served as a senator in the Graduate and Professional Students Association for two terms. In UAW 4591 and GPSA, de Lira said she has been part of conversations in which the same issues come up over and over again: being able to afford food, having better public transportation, affordable housing and tenant protections.

de Lira said she applied to be a Council member because she thought it was important for a student, a woman of color, a renter and someone who does not own or drive a car to have a voice on the Council.

“I know what it feels like to not have the resources that we need in the city. And I’m very sensitive to that now,” de Lira said. “So I just want to be able to bridge the gap on getting those resources to those community members that have my identities.”

For de Lira, bridging that gap looks like reaching out to student groups and other organizations.

She and those organizations are in the process of submitting statements on sustainably funded public transportation, affordable housing, tenant protections and food insecurity for Pullman’s annual goals and legislative priorities, which de Lira said directly inform the city budget. She wants the budget to reflect students’ concerns with the support of both WSU and Pullman. de Lira is also looking into fostering awareness around tenants’ experiences and educating first-time tenants, many of whom are students.

Though she has yet to spearhead an ordinance or other governmental change to Pullman, de Lira said just receiving the gratitude of community members has been rewarding.

“It feels like I am able to share in community members’ passions and struggles,” de Lira said. “And me being able to do something at City Council, at the City Council level, just makes me feel like I’m helping out.”

Pullman has an estimated population of 32,508, according to the 2022 U.S. Census. WSU students make up a majority of that population at 17,827.

Students have a huge impact on Pullman in terms of the services they use, which range from water, sewer and infrastructure to transportation, Council member Megan Guido said. Most students only live in Pullman for nine months of the year, but they still play an important role in the city’s economy and community.

However, de Lira said Ward Two tends to have the lowest voter turnout of Pullman’s three wards.

She wants to change that. de Lira advocates for an open, communicative and accessible government and for students to engage with it. She said she encourages people to email testimonies to the Council and comment at Council meetings, as doing so amplifies de Lira’s ability to support what other students want to happen in Pullman.

“We do make up a big majority of the population,” de Lira said. “So we have to have a voice.”

UAW 4591 advocates for improvements that will help academic student employees thrive in both their careers and personal lives. de Lira said she was part of UAW 4591’s efforts to win and ratify their first contract, which includes better pay, healthcare, protections against discrimination and harassment and more for ASEs.

Her experiences with UAW 4591 and GPSA taught her the importance of working together to make institutions like WSU and the city of Pullman.

While de Lira’s responsibility is to be a voice for the people she represents in Ward Two, she said she listens to everyone. de Lira wants all Pullman residents to have a voice and build the same collective power that got UAW 4591 their contract with WSU.

Numbers build not only power, but credibility; the views de Lira voices become not of an individual Council member, but a reflection of collective concerns.

“It’s not just within WSU that we should be advocating, but also we are part of this bigger and more broader community that is being a community member of City of Pullman,” de Lira said.

de Lira said she studies computer science education overall. Her dissertation, which blends computer science with educational psychology, is on how the emotional states of students who are learning how to code for the first time and their programming behavior can combine and allow them to connect through giving and seeking help.

Underlying de Lira’s dissertation is helping one another as a community, something she said she knows the importance of doing within a city.

When she is tired after her work as a graduate student and Council member, she said knowing she can help others organize around issues, as well as knowing what pressures those on the other side of those issues, gives her fuel. When someone feels heard and recognizes that she is trying to make an impact on a cause they care about, it excites de Lira.

Once she defends her dissertation, de Lira will help UAW 4591 boost membership so they can enforce their contract with WSU. She said she plans to be involved with Pullman’s population of students even after graduation.

“It’s not like my experience just goes away once I graduate. And having had a lot of experience on what it feels to be a student in Pullman, I think that’s just valuable insight that I’m hoping to bring very strongly on Council,” de Lira said.

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About the Contributor
GABRIELLE FELICIANO, Evergreen life editor
Gabrielle is a junior from Chicago majoring in multimedia journalism. She has been a part of the Daily Evergreen since spring 2022. She is passionate about the arts, entertainment and everything in between.