#SAadvocates Go To Washington

More than 40 student affairs professionals gathered in Washington, D.C., earlier this month to learn about and engage with their representative governments as #SAadvocates.

NASPA Hill Days participants spent a day learning from experts about how student affairs practitioners can develop approaches to promote advocacy and activism on a city, state and national level, before heading to the Hill for the National Student Affairs Day of Action.

As a part of the inaugural National Student Affairs Day of Action the #SAadvocates and a handful of NASPA summer interns met with the offices of 60 Members of Congress to discuss higher education policy from student affairs perspectives. NASPA President Kevin Kruger, NASPA Director of Research and Practice Jill Dunlap, and four Day of Action participants then had the opportunity to engage in a listening session on Title IX with Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Development, William E. Trachman from the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights.

Matt Van JuraAssistant Director, Leadership Programs, Ohio State University

In politics, “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” This was the advice from a panelist at Hill Days last week. The message underscored the importance of showing up in the policy decision-making process. Whether voting in elections, calling representatives, or engaging in face-to-face advocacy, each of us has the power to champion issues and programs we value. Otherwise, they may be ignored (or worse, eliminated) in an environment with competing priorities.

But sometimes it’s difficult finding your way to the table. As much as I love following politics and policy, I didn’t know the first step for how to more actively participate in policy decisions happening at the federal and state level. That’s why I was excited to see NASPA organize its first Hill Days program this year. Not only did the association organize a platform for members to get involved with policy work, we also learned about current issues in education policy and how to effectively communicate our concerns. A series of webinars over the months leading up to our D.C. visit prepared us with the necessary facts, and training on Monday July 16 provided time to practice our talking points with other association members. By the time we met with Members of Congress and their staff, our group was ready to engage and represent NASPA’s positions on behalf of our students.

Reflecting on this experience and what I’ll remember moving forward, the importance of community membership stands out. My day-to-day work focuses on community, and I’m sure the same is true for many NASPA members. Our work entails community-building in classrooms, residence halls, student unions, the list goes on. But we are also members of state, national and international communities, and we can’t forget the importance of community-building at this macro level. Decisions at the state and federal levels carry profound implications for students’ opportunities. At times it’s natural to feel disconnected or left out of these conversations, yet that’s where membership in groups like NASPA can help. In my opinion, one of the best outcomes from Hill Days was inviting new voices to the table and amplifying our voices in a way that wouldn’t have been possible by working separately.

Diana AliPolicy Analyst, NASPA

Working primarily as a policy analyst and content creator, I don’t often have opportunities to see the direct impact of my work on NASPA membership.  While ever increasing website traffic to the NASPA Research and Policy Institute webpage and consistency of participation in public policy related content and events show that student affairs professionals are interested in policy and advocacy opportunities, there’s nothing quite as reassuring as seeing and hearing excited feedback directly from our members’ mouths. The energy and passion I experienced as a planning committee team member throughout NASPA’s Hill Days and inaugural National Student Affairs Day of Action on July 16 and 17, truly fueled my policy wonk soul.  

I was able to see momentum build in the room during the opening plenary panel on July 16 as experts in higher education policy and government relations from the higher education association community set the framing for the day through a robust conversation on the current federal policy landscape with an emphasis on Title IX and immigration. I witnessed how energy picked up before lunch when staff from the House and Senate committees covering higher education policy also spoke off-the-record with Hill Day participants, offering insights and suggestions for making their visits with legislators effective and efficient. I was consistently inspired by how many questions Hill Days participants posed throughout afternoon workshops and noted the desire of participants to truly become vehicles of progress for the higher education community.

The next day, when Hill Days participants headed to the Capitol, I had trouble keeping my eyes off social media as #SAadvocates posts started populating my feed. I watched the selfies with Congressional members roll through my social media channels, observed the transition of my friends’, colleagues’, and communities’ Facebook profiles to reflect the Day of Action language, and saw individual faces light up at the end of the day when asked to explain the important impact they felt they had made that day through meetings with their elected officials. I felt increasingly inspired throughout the experience. Time and time again, I was able to speak collaboratively with Hill Days participants on ways to improve ease of access to advocacy opportunities at NASPA, and I kept thinking to myself, this is why I love my job.