Advocacy Day in Richmond

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Jack Foley |

Advocacy Day’s name creates the illusion of one day of implementation being the fulfillment of a task; rather Advocacy Day is a culmination of planning, preparedness, and achievement for both Radford University and the students who participate. The trip to Richmond on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 was to display the importance and benefits that Radford University has on its students and the Commonwealth of Virginia to our leaders.

Using that base goal students were able to personalize it with their stories, Denia Rauls described the importance of state funds to our University. “I…wanted to ensure [that] our legislators understood how important Radford University is to other students and me, and that our university is properly funding for future generations,” said Rauls.

Students wishing to take part in this event had to go through an application process and then attend three pieces of training, in which they learned economic and academic information that would be a necessity when engaging with state leaders. The training also provided an opportunity for students to practice talking with their hometown representatives.

A busload of fifty students, along with Radford University President Brian O. Hemphill, members of the Board of Visitors and other administration members arrived in the Virginia Capitol District on Tuesday afternoon. Tuesday gave students the opportunity to observe the legislative process. The students were able to see the quick pace of working in the legislature. A group of Radford students was able to attend a subcommittee hearing on higher education.

Delegate Joseph Yost, who is a graduate of Radford University and also a member of the House of Delegates representing the city of Radford, attended that subcommittee hearing. Arriving an hour early turned out to be key in getting into the meeting. As the meeting began to start, the room filled up to capacity with individuals sitting on the floor. The subcommittee hearing was centered on undocumented immigrants obtaining higher education in Virginia.

Proposed bills and amendments were presented by members from both parties. Issues such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were discussed, and the rooms full of citizens were deeply involved in the conversation. Many of the people in the room were “Dream Act” recipients, from universities and colleges around the state, and members of organizations who back DACA and wish that the state implements their form of the law. This room and committee hearing gave those attending an up-close look at how the public and law-makers interact directly with each other during the legislative process. Also that it showed students that what the legislature is doing are affecting individuals within the state. Others taking part in Advocacy Day were able to speak to staff within the Attorney General’s Office. The students were also given a tour of the executive mansion on Tuesday.

Advocacy Day officially began on Wednesday morning when we were separated into our groups that would come with us to meet our elected officials. These groups were made up of approximately five students along with a school administrator or a Visitors Board member. Students told their Radford stories to each of their hometown representatives during the time in which they met. India Martin, a senior at Radford, described her conversation as “a great experience to meet the men who are one of the driving forces behind the decisions of our district.”

With the General Assembly in session, it was difficult to meet with all the Delegates and Senators, so when they were not able to meet, they spoke to a legislative aid. While observing the pace of the members and staff of the General Assembly on Tuesday, on Wednesday they were able to get involved.

Cody Hartley, a junior at Radford University, described the pace at which the legislature works, “We moved from senators to delegates very quickly, and the atmosphere in the office was very hectic…I enjoyed the fast paced environment and the “feel” in the air of law-making in action,” said Hartley.

No matter how short the meeting it was important that students made contact with the staff or member of the General Assembly because even the small moments do make differences in how a member will think about Radford University. Alan Ward, a senior economics major, attended his third Advocacy Day this year. “Advocacy Day…allows for the conversation you have with Delegates and Senators to go deeper,” Ward said of reasons why he has continued on the trip.

Following the member meetings, the students took a group picture with Governor Terry McAuliffe on the Capitol steps. The Governor spoke to the students briefly about higher education and other subjects occurring in the news at the time, including President Trump. After the Governor had left, the Advocacy Day students entered the Capitol which concluded the Advocacy Day trip.

The effort of individuals at all levels of Radford University made Advocacy Day successful. This event was an excellent opportunity to see how state government operated and gave the students the chance to meet their state legislatures. Not only did it benefit the students but it benefited Radford University’s reputation in the legislature. Students took away many different things from this trip.

Alan Ward has continued to attend this event because of its usefulness in the future. “Advocacy Day has shown me that no matter where your career takes you, there is always a need for someone to represent you or your interests at the General Assembly.”

Denia Rauls is also using this experience to help form her goals for the future. “My passion for being a part of the state government has once again been fueled thanks to Radford University’s Advocacy Day.”