Why we were in DC and how we advocated for students
written by | Faiçal Rayani
It is my pleasure to report to you the results of our lobbying trip this spring break!
During spring break, the Students United board spent two days on Capitol Hill meeting with policy makers and influencers. We met with Representatives Tom Emmer and Tim Walz, staff members of Representatives Rick Nolan and Collin Peterson, staff members of US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and finally a staff member of the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. In addition to these meetings, our students also met with American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASC) and National Campus Leadership Council (NCLC), which are national higher education organizations.
We left for DC Tuesday the 6th and returned back to Minnesota that Friday the 9th!
We had nine students in our lobby group. All three our our officers attended and then one student from six of the seven Minnesota State universities: Moorhead, Bemidji, Saint Cloud, Mankato, Metro and Winona.
We were also accompanied by three staff members from Students United. Our Executive Director, our Director of Communications and our Director of System and Government Relations.
Our agenda had an emphasis on 5 major and specific items:
1. Protection for DACA students
Undocumented students attend our state universities. They are our colleagues and do not have anyone speaking on their behalf in this current political climate. We stand in solidarity for the protection of our undocumented colleagues.
2. Opposing the PROSPER Act
The PROSPER Act changes student borrowing and repayment processes and campus sexualt assault investigation process that Students United cannot support.
3. Supporting the Affordable College Textbook Act
Students pay an average of $1200 on textbooks a year. Money spent on textbooks goes to Cengage, Macgraw Hill and Pearson. It does not go to faculty development, education development or students. There are students currently choosing between rent, food and textbooks for their monthly purchases and end up foregoing textbooks at the cost of their academic success.
4. Protecting Title IX
We oppose the changes made to Title IX by the Department of Education. New guidance allows universities to change their standard of proof in sexual assault cases from preponderance of evidence, defined as one having to prove it was more likely than not true, to clear and convincing, defined as one having to prove it was substantially more likely than not true. Furthermore, The 60-day investigation requirement was replaced with the timeframe of “reasonable prompt,” which is more ambiguous, while also now allowing for a mediation period.
5. Extending the Perkins Loan
We support the Federal Perkins Loan Program Extension Act of 2017. The Perkins Loan is a low-interest federal student loan for undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need that nearly 2,500 Minnesota State university students rely on.
Our meetings provided those we met with a student perspective and put a face to the students that legislators are impacting with their bills. We also met with organizations that were our allies and strengthened our relationship with them.
There is a perception of DC that is ruthless, selfish and hard-headed. The truth is, people in DC are just trying to live their best lives and doing what they believe is the right thing. They don't know everything and they don't always make the right decisions but people in DC are mostly kind, good people trying to do what's best for the country.
Students United will continue to represent students and support specific bills that benefit students.
My long term -- My vision for Students United would be to lead an advocacy movement that spreads throughout the nation and cascades to affordable education for all US peoples. The National Campus Leadership Council, who we met with in DC, provides advocacy resources for students across the nation. I’d hope is that our two organizations could collaborate for the good of all students and hence the people of this country.
Education is the foundation for understanding and understanding is the foundation for prosperity and peace.