As chair of NIRSA’s Government Affairs Committee, monitoring and speaking out on state and federal policy issues that can impact our daily operations, our students, and our staff is a normal part of my work. However, I recently had the opportunity to take that work to the next level—to the Hill to be exact.
I had the privilege of being a part of this year’s NASPA Hill Days. This experience is a hands-on opportunity to lobby for issues that affect the student affairs profession and higher education more broadly. This is the third year NASPA has run this event; it is open to both members and non-members. NASPA provides attendees with information regarding the pertinent issues, as well as the legislative process. This year, we focused on three issues:
- Campus Responsibilities for Sexual Violence Prevention & Response (Title IX)
- Priorities for Higher Education Act Reauthorization (HEA)
- Immigration Policy and Higher Education (DACA)
Leading up to the Hill Day itself, we were put into groups based on our states and provided a liaison from NASPA as well as a veteran of the program. We communicated about the process and talking points monthly through conference calls, as well as attending a number of webinars to prepare us for our conversations with our elected officials.
Upon arrival in Washington D.C. we were provided an overview of the process and support materials, as well as additional information regarding each of the topics. Things change daily in regard to bills being introduced and changes in legislation, so it was important that we had the most up to date information as we entered into our meetings.
During our orientation we had two panels of individuals speak to us about the Hill Day process as well as provide us with advice. The first panel were representatives from a number of organizations, including the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, Higher Education, The Education Trust, American Council on Education, and National College Access Network. The second panel consisted of staffers from the Hill. These presentations provided us with insight into the culture on the Hill as well as pertinent information about current discussions surrounding the legislation we were there to discuss.
We were able to make contact with the staff of the elected representatives from our states to schedule our meetings. This was a fascinating process and provided some insight into the overall process of lobbying. This was new for the Hill Days process this year, as the NASPA staff had conducted all the meeting scheduling in the past. Those who had been through this program previously said they really liked being able to schedule the meetings themselves. I believe allowing us to contact the staffers directly to set up the meetings gave us a little more weight with the staffers and officials.
We set our meetings according to the schedule of our elected representatives, and each meeting was scheduled for 30 minutes, although most did not last that long. These were very quick and to the point meetings. It was an interesting process, being able to provide information to the staffers that we hoped they would bring back to their bosses. Each person in our small group had a topic to provide information about; this provided each of us with a chance to have our voices heard by the staffers. In one case, we were able to meet with the actual representative—it was great to be able to speak directly to the person whose support you’re seeking.
While it’s unlikely our discussions will ever make news, the fact that student affairs professionals were about to hold 88 meetings over the course of one day to speak to the impact and concerns regarding Title IX, HEA, and DACA is very powerful. This program is a significant way for organizations of higher education to get in front of the elected officials and have our voices heard. It’s important that we are an active part of the process, assisting with bringing positive change to the landscape of higher education.
- For more information, please contact Government Affairs Committee Chair Yvette Kell or NIRSA Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships Erin O’Sullivan.