UC Berkeley students lobby in Washington DC for higher education issues

Mark Green/Courtesy

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Twelve campus students met with staffers and officials from 30 U.S. House of Representatives and Senate offices last week, as a part of the biannual lobbying trip to Washington D.C. organized by the office of the ASUC External Affairs Vice President, or EAVP.

The trip is hosted once a semester, according to Mark Green, federal government relations director for the EAVP’s office. He added that planning for the trip took over two months and included calling over 80 legislative offices with scheduling requests.

“The mission for these trips is twofold,” Green said in an email. “First, we push important legislative priorities for advancing equity in higher education and which address students’ concerns. Second, we ensure members of Congress and their staff directly engage with students who are affected by the policies they put forward.”

Meetings with members of Congress who represent California or sit on important committees were prioritized, according to Green. Over the course of three days, the 12 students met with representatives ranging from Sen. Kamala Harris, D-CA, to Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, in four teams of three students.

The students focused on supporting bills from three themes: higher education policy, Title IX procedures and immigration. According to ASUC Senator Nicole Anyanwu, who attended the trip, students advocated on policy they were “experts” in or had experience with.

“It was really phenomenal because we felt like we were being listened to and that our experiences were being taken into account,” Anyanwu said. “It was just a really cool trip.”

The students asked the members of Congress to support already introduced legislation, including H.R. 1298, known as the Higher Education Dream Act, and H.R. 6, known as the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019. They also gave input for the development of new bills, including to Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, who is writing a U.S. House bill to help provide basic needs for students, similar to Harris’s Senate bill, according to Anyanwu.

Green, who has planned six other ASUC EAVP trips to Washington D.C., said the meeting with Torres was the highlight of his trip.

“Their office reached out to us requesting a meeting between our students and the Congresswoman for the last day of the trip,” Green said in an email. “While eight delegates went to the airport, four of us got the opportunity to sit one-on-one with Norma Torres to share the challenges basic needs insecurity poses to students on campus.”

For Anyanwu, the highlight of the trip was an unintentional run-in with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, who is a member of “the squad” led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-Bronx, which has garnered national attention in recent months.

According to Anyanwu, she and campus senior Simran Thind bought smoothies with Tlaib and ended up on her Instagram story.

“It’s important that we went on this trip,” Anyanwu said. “We were not only able to lobby for important bills, but we were making sure to account for different narratives and experiences.”

Kate Finman is the lead student government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.