Students get politically involved during Lobby Day

Students+get+politically+involved+during+Lobby+Day

Photo contributed by Samantha Meyers

By Kalli Wolf, Staff Writer

ASEWU and EWU students came together in Olympia, Washington, on Feb. 10-11 to meet legislators and advocate for the needs of the university.

Around 30 to 40 students, aside from ASEWU, participated in Lobby Day 2016.

ASEWU Legislative Affairs Representative Carlos Hernandez said ASEWU recognizes the importance of Lobby Day and making sure students are doing their civic duty by lobbying for the things they are passionate about, such as college affordability and other pieces of legislation that pertain to them.

A few students were not able to ride with the group and instead drove themselves up to Olympia. However, that did not stop ASEWU from making sure they were involved. Hernandez said ASEWU made sure to incorporate those students who were not able to ride with them and make sure they were caught up and understood what was happening prior to the event.

The group focused on four issues. The first was the $1.3 million backfill needed for the new science building. “We had a really positive presence for the science building,” Hernandez said.

Lobby day attendee and graduate student Chantilly Higbee said, “When I heard through the grapevine that the university was trying to secure funding for a new [science] building, I wanted to represent my fellow students and the faculty who have invested in and supported me. Lobby Day was advertised as a way that I could accomplish this and more.”

The group wanted to show legislators that a new science facility is necessary in order to compete with other universities in the area. Hernandez stressed the importance of making sure students do not choose to attend other universities, such as WSU, when EWU can afford the same amenities. “That was really successful,” he said.

“Our science building is in dire need of replacement,” said Higbee. “During rain events, water basically pours from the ceiling, which endangers our students and faculty. Imagine this happening in the same areas where reactive chemicals are stored, or where experiments are taking place, or onto computers.”

Higbee also said the building floods regularly and cannot support the volume of classes offered by the departments within it. “We don’t just need a new building, we need a bigger building that can support the record numbers of incoming students,” she said.

EWU senior and Lobby Day attendee Kayla Emineth said, “We explained our urgency for this new building by providing testimonies from current undergraduate and graduate students who use the building frequently, pictures, and even a petition with over 700 signatures and comments from our students.”

Another focus on the agenda under Wellbeing and Diversity pertained to students with disabilities. This bill was passed and allows students who are disabled to have their information sent to the university they will be attending so they do not have to go back to their doctor in order to get the information.

Open education resources was another focus. “We tried our hardest to fight for the open education resources—making things more available online rather than physical textbooks. Hopefully that resonated with legislators,” Hernandez said. However, this is difficult due to the large amount of people involved, such as the book companies themselves.

Finally, Services and Activities decoupling was the fourth major focus on the agenda. Hernandez said if tuition is raised, the institution could actually have the ability to raise Services and Activities (S&A) fees. “We want to decouple those so they cannot raise the S&As,” Hernandez said. He said in reality tuition could significantly decrease, but the institution can raise S&A fees, which ASEWU wants to keep from happening.

One of the goals for ASEWU this year was to focus more on the educational background of lobby day and making sure students knew what they were talking about and well informed. Upon arriving in Olympia on Thursday, the legislative liaison came and spoke to the group and covered what they would be doing and fighting for at the event the following day.

The next morning there was also a PowerPoint presenting how legislation and lobbying works. Participants then got into groups and discussed how they would represent themselves to legislators.

Hernandez said he feels this is something students can take away from the experience and use in the future. Not only how to present themselves to legislators, but to different business people or in interviews altogether. “This is basically like an interview with the legislator, telling them your story and why he or she should pick you, or go with what you’re saying, so I think it’s a great opportunity for any student [to attend],” Hernandez said.

Students are highly encouraged to participate in Lobby Day. “If [students] are wanting to experience a high caliber environment of professionalism, I would recommend them to go,” said Hernandez. “Really, what we did is advocate for ourselves as students, we also did university [stuff], but mainly we are advocating for ourselves.”

After the event, a student told Hernandez she never thought she would enjoy advocating for herself as much as she did that day. “I think that that’s a real testament to what we’re trying to provide for students here at Eastern,” Hernandez said.

One student brought his résumé along. Hernandez said they are not only there for Eastern, but also as students themselves. He said if students are prepared and think they might like to do something pertaining to legislation in the future, ASEWU will not stop them from networking. “Really having the students come to that realization that they can make a difference by their actions and their words is one of our main reasons why we do this trip and promote it to students,” Hernandez said.

“The event was a great way to network. I met some amazing students that I look forward to working with in the future,” Higbee said and encouraged interested students to reach out to EWU Legislative Liaison Anna Schilter. “She works hard to help Eastern students voice their opinions and concerns to our legislature. We are lucky to have her,” Higbee said.

Hernandez encourages students to get involved with Lobby Day as well. “If a student feels that little fire inside of them to advocate for themselves, then I would recommend them to go,” Hernandez said.

“I learned so much from Lobby Day 2016,” said Emineth. “I learned about how important it really is to speak with our local legislators about the issues that we face. In my opinion, learning that our voice matters was the greatest benefit from our trip to Olympia.”

“It was an unforgettable experience,” said Higbee.

Hernandez is hopeful that in the future people will train those who are not well educated on legislation prior to attending. However, he said even if students are somewhat uneducated, as long as they have an eagerness to learn, that is all ASEWU is looking for.

“It really opens a door just to create an environment that students can really thrive in what they want to do,” Hernandez said.