Written by | Benjamin Ellgen
Our day of advocacy began with excited laughter and shared comradery- breaths’ visibly condensing in the crisp morning air. Both our nervousness and excitement felt tangible as my peers and I walked together as friends and allies towards the Capitol Building. In moments such as these, it is important to remember that each of us have opportunities to stand up and create our own positive change.
I had the incredible opportunity to participate in Students United’s Advocacy Day. In this annual event, students from all seven Minnesota State universities travel to the State Capitol to meet and discuss higher education policy issues with lawmakers. As students, we had the privilege to meet with over thirty elected officials. In these meetings, we raised awareness of, and expressed support for textbook affordability legislation, higher education funding (bonding and HEAPR), and affirmative consent policy (H.F. 116/S.F. 145). Students United’s 2018 state legislative agenda is comprised of these important issues.
Regardless of how excited we were to share our passion and work on behalf of our peers, in order to be effective advocates of these important issues, training was required. The first day of our trip included activities that developed communication skills, gave us opportunities to research policy, and to conduct mock legislator meetings. This lighthearted workshop was full of shared laughter and amicable banter between rival schools as worked together for a common goal. We were able more effectively share our message and better affect change through this training. In following day, the actual Advocacy Day, we took our newfound lobbying skills and put them to the test.
Meeting with lawmakers throughout the day was an amazing experience. In an effort to cover more ground, the group was split with each school’s delegation scheduled to meet with legislators from districts in which both our university is part of in addition to meetings with our hometown lawmakers. Beyond spending the day attempting to navigate the complexity of lawmaker office buildings, we also had time to tour the Capitol and contact our federal officials about protecting DACA recipients- many of which are our colleagues and coworkers in our schools.
The importance of Advocacy Day is twofold. First, in our effort to support higher education and second, in developing engaged citizens. By meeting directly with lawmakers, Minnesota State students such as myself were able to educate our elected representatives of not only the consequences associated with a lack of higher education support, but also tangible methods and legislation that will help students succeed. Now more than ever, it is essential for all Americans, especially the youth, to participate in the legislative process and establish connections with those who represent us. Students United’s Advocacy Day has, and continues to be, an effective opportunity for students to promote higher education issues that matter to us and work with Minnesota lawmakers to make the necessary changes that our state needs.