Though it’s only been a couple of days, initial reports from participants and observers indicate that NASPA Hill Days and the inaugural National Student Affairs Day of Action (NSADA) were resounding successes! Forty-five student affairs professionals, including three NASPA interns, representing 19 states, spanning our nation from Alaska to Ohio to Florida, participated in more than 50 meetings with Congressional Members and their staff on July 17, 2018. They were joined in their efforts by colleagues from around the country on social media who shared their own advocacy efforts with the #SAadvocates hashtag. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for more about NASPA Hill Days and NSADA direct from the participants! In the meantime, for those who weren’t able to join us, please take a look at the recap below to catch up on what you missed.
On Monday July 16, the NASPA Hill Days program kicked off at the George Washington University Cloyd Heck Marvin Center with a full day of skill-building to prepare #SAadvocates for their Capitol Hill visits, scheduled to coincide with the National Student Affairs Day on Action on Tuesday July 17. 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. Panelists included: Sarah Spreitzer, Director, Government Relations, American Council on Education; Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center; and Luis Maldonado, Chief Advocacy Officer, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities.
All three panelists discussed how unfortunate it is that marginalized members of the higher education community continue to be caught in the crosshairs of changing federal policy. Spreitzer spoke to the recent history of the Higher Education Act (HEA), pointing to the lack of reauthorization in over a decade. While the continued delay pushes back opportunities for making necessary changes to our nation’s landmark higher education law, Spreitzer noted that the delay in reauthorization creates necessary time to move toward a more bipartisan solution than that proposed by House Republicans in HR 4508, the “Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform Act” (PROSPER Act). Similarly, Graves observed that while the HEA requires reauthorization, Title IX does not, and there is no true reason for Title IX to be wrapped into the HEA.
In response to a question about how to promote advocacy during a time of political ambiguity for marginalized students, Maldonado responded that there is big “P” policy and small “p” policy. While big “P” might refer to contending with the polarization within our current political system, small “p” refers to building standards and procedures that ensure a more just livelihood for all. NASPA Hill Days participants were encouraged to consider the impacts of both, strategically operating within the bounds of big “P” policy to leverage their rights as constituents to propel inclusive legislation forward while promoting small “p” policy in an effort to build awareness around policy most salient to the higher education community.
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.
Just before lunch, Jason Marmon from Active Policy Solutions prepared participants with tips and scripts for how to make the most of their time with their elected officials the following day. As many of the 2018 NASPA Hill Days participants were the only person attending from their institution, state, or district, participants were grouped in teams for their meetings. Each team included three to five student affairs professionals and/or undergraduate NASPA summer interns representing various levels of leadership in higher education. The diversity in the room allowed for groups to prepare a wide range of talking points regarding the two topical issue areas they would discuss with their Congressional delegations on behalf of NASPA.
NASPA Hill Days focused on current issue areas in higher education: immigration and international students, Title IX sexual assault prevention and response, trans individuals’ rights, free speech and intellectual diversity, and Higher Education Act reauthorization. Over lunch and throughout the afternoon, participants reviewed NASPA position statements on the issues and read background briefs created by the NASPA policy and advocacy staff to learn more about how the issues have evolved in relation to higher education since the start of the current Congress. Participants developed specific asks for their sessions and considered strategies to secure commitments from their elected officials on issues where legislation is currently pending.
Break-out session participants raised important questions regarding the stances of their elected officials, and in some cases determined that the topics they were originally given were not the most relevant, choosing, in that case to switch to a more salient topic in line with that group’s research. The Hill Days Planning Committee were happy to facilitate those changes that participants felt appropriate, making the workshops a collaborative and skill-building experience for all. The day wrapped up with a networking reception for participants and association partners and friends at the Capitol Visitor Center, sponsored by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) of the HELP Committee.
On Tuesday participants headed to the Hill, some as early as 8:30am for coffee appointments with their elected officials. Those without early morning coffee appointments joined their teams at the Marvin Center for final preparation and discussion, including reminders to collect business cards and take notes throughout their meetings to facilitate follow up afterwards. A quick trip on the Metro later and #SAadvocates took Capitol Hill by storm!
Throughout the day participants engaged with their elected officials in formal scheduled meetings and even a few chance encounters in the halls of Congressional office buildings. Participants had a chance to speak to the importance of student affairs and explain how the student affairs profession offers a unique constituent perspective in both its proximity to the needs of students and its necessity to the core functionality of the higher education community as a whole. In several instances, elected officials or congressional aides expressed an acute interest in learning more about NASPA and the student affairs profession and the topics covered. Participants also noted instances of unconventional hospitality ranging from an ice cream case labeled “ice cream for Missouri constituents only,” to receiving signed full-page photos with their elected official at the end of their short fifteen minute meeting.
Group 13 Hill Days participants, Denny Bubrig (far left), Quineshia Peterson (middle left), and Rebecca Marie Smith (far right), with Alaska Representative Donald Young (far right)
While many participants had to leave as soon as their meetings were finished, some were able to join those attending the NASPA Open House Tuesday evening in the NASPA headquarters for some refreshments and reflection on the day with colleagues and staff. Look for future posts on participant reflections of the 2018 NASPA Hill Days and the National Student Affairs Day of Action in the coming weeks! And thank you to all of those who joined us in person on the Hill and across the country as #SAadvocates for the National Student Affairs Day of Action!