Over 400 college students from across the country gathered in the nation’s capital last weekend to lobby their congressmen about higher education.
The United States Student Association hosted the 40th annual Grassroots Legislative Conference, which gave attendees the opportunity to lobby Congress to pass both President Obama’s budget proposal and the DREAM Act, which focuses on undocumented students. Much of the lobbying focused on increasing access to higher education.
The DREAM Act would allow undocumented students who have lived in the U.S. for over five years and who met certain other qualifications to have greater access to a higher education, while Obama’s proposed budget would increase financial aid through programs such as the Pell Grant. This would be in addition to increases already made law through the $787 billion stimulus bill.
Schools from all parts of the country were present, with UCSB representing the largest delegation at 34 participants. At the conference, students attended workshops and learned leadership skills.
Corey Huber, a third-year political science major and Associated Students external vice president of statewide affairs, was at the event and said that the experience was powerful.
“It was nice being able to drive our points not only in theory or practice,” Huber, who lobbied California Senator Dianne Feinstein, said, “but to take it out with real legislators was invaluable.”
David Preciado, a second-year Chicana and Chicano studies and political science double major, said he was moved by how many students from different parts of the country came together for a single purpose.
“Marching to the capital was the best thing ever,” Preciado said. “I think knowing that a student from Minnesota is lobbying for the same thing as I am is so powerful because it shows that at the end of the day we can all come together over something bigger than ourselves.”
Meanwhile, Christina Baggao, a third-year political science major said these coalitions facilitated discussions between students who are eager to make a difference and rally for a certain issue.
“After hearing testimonials from others who are deeply feeling this issue I now know the direction I want go in regards to helping women in higher education,” she said. “You want students to learn from other students because that empowers us and so important. It’s how you build a student movement.”
Celina Ayala, a second-year biopsychology major, said UCSB’s delegation plans to continue its lobbying efforts on campus.
“People already started planning a week of action to raise awareness in the DREAM Act workshop in D.C.,” Ayala said. “We are considering having a display door to higher education on campus that everyone can walk through. We want the message to be right in front of students’ faces… Everyone should be allowed access to a higher education.”