When I originally applied to partake in NASPA Hill Days I had no idea the impact a graduate student in student affairs could make. Even as I was filling out the Hill Days application I questioned, what do I as a graduate student and new professional bring to the policy table?
I was drawn to participate in Hill Days because of my faculty at the University of Maryland, College Park. They empowered my cohort to believe that student affairs professionals have a place in creating and implementing policy, which ultimately affects the students we serve. I wanted to expand my knowledge into how our elected officials are informed on campus issues and what they are working on to solve these issues. Being accepted as a Hill Days participant was a thrilling and somewhat anxiety-inducing experience. How was I going to lobby on the Hill? Would our elected officials be open to feedback about the effects of current policy? Could I even properly articulate what the experiences of our students are like?
I could barely sleep the night before our day of lobbying due to preparing facts, looking up information on the officials I would be meeting with, and overall excitement. Arriving at Longworth for our first meeting with Representative Brown (MD) alongside my Maryland team, we felt empowered to tell the story of our students and how policy needs to change to meet our student needs. Meeting after meeting my team and I shared topics of Title IX regulations, college affordability, Pell Grants, the experiences of minority students on campus, Dreamers, and the future of higher education.
My team and I did what I believe we did best, connect with the staffers and show them the human side of how policy drastically affects the way our students can and cannot show up in education. We connected, we shared knowledge, and we advocated. My team and I got to the heart of the issues we were discussing. Sharing personal stories of our own educational experience and that of our students. We connected with the Hill staffers and their higher education experience and the issues they see. Each time a staffer wrote notes based on some of the facts and experiences we shared, I told myself “we got this.”
I find it difficult to explain how deeply I have been impacted by participating in NASPA Hill Days. Just being in buildings on Capitol Hill there was a rush of how the history of what has occurred in these spaces has shaped our lives today. I was filled with the same thrill walking through the congressional tunnels as I would on a rollercoaster. I was given an opportunity to network, receive continuous support and validation, and I was also shown how much my voice mattered. My voice and experiences as a graduate student and new professional were lifted up by every student affairs professional and NASPA staff member. They empowered me to feel that I had a voice to contribute to this national conversation on higher education policy. It is our duty as student affairs professionals to lift up and honor the voices of our students. My participation in Hill Days and working in student affairs makes me feel privileged to bear witness to how we assist our students, who act as engineers in the science of life.
Hear from More Hill Days Participants at #NASPA2020
If you are attending the 2020 NASPA Annual Conference and are interested in learning more about Hill Days and the ways in which advocacy skill development is transferable to your campus or institution, please consider attending the panel--NASPA Hill Days: Modeling Civic Engagement as Student Affairs Professionals, Tuesday, March 31 at 8 a.m.