GPSA Goes to Washington

Last year, many of you joined forces with graduate students across the country to fight taxes on graduate student tuition waivers in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which would have been a significant new financial burden for students. But because of our combined advocacy efforts, we were able to make our voices heard in the Federal government and the harmful provisions were removed!

Even before the Tax Bill though, GPSA has advocated on behalf of graduate and professional student at our Federal government and continues to do so. For six graduate students, this meant flying across the country at the end of September to the nation’s Capital, Washington, DC, for four days of advocacy training and lobbying on Capitol Hill.

Every semester, the National Association of Graduate and Professional Students (NAGPS), a national non-profit organization composed of member universities across the country, hosts an Advocacy Summit and Legislative Action Days in the DC metro area. For two days, delegates from NAGPS member universities meet to learn about current legislative affairs that impact graduate students. This semester, the issues on the advocacy platform were the Higher Education Act reauthorization, visa revalidation, and open access to publicly funded research.

Attendees heard from professionals in advocacy organizations and academic societies like AAAS, lawyers, university offices, and one-time graduate students who now work in policy. “I love meeting with other graduates from different cities and sharing our issues and problems,” said Natalie Cheang, an Assembly member from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. “[I learned] so much about problems graduate students face and what students can do to share our voices and be heard!”

Following the advocacy conference over the weekend, graduate students took to Capitol Hill to visit the offices of their Representatives and Senators. The six students from ASU joined forces with three students from the University of Arizona’s Graduate and Professional Student Council for meetings with all nine House of Representative offices and with Senator Jeff Flake’s office. 

In addition to being an important advocacy opportunity, these meetings allowed grad students to see what goes on in a legislative office and speak with Congressional staff members. “After hearing about how the legislative process works in US history classes and in science policy classes, it was exciting to become part of it and discuss policies with our AZ representatives!” said GPSA’s Director of Advocacy and PhD student in Biological Design Alyssa Henning, “Most Congress members do not have graduate degrees, so I think it was very helpful for us to discuss our graduate student experiences. Our stories help legislators and their staff members understand how current and proposed policies affect domestic and international graduate and professional students.”

And many of these offices are listening to and are interested in what we have to say. During some of our meetings, the staffers asked for our opinion on issues related to student debt and the Higher Education Act reauthorization. One of the students from University of Arizona even received a personal call from her district’s Representative Raul Grijalva!

GPSA has been participating in NAGPS’ Legislative Action Days for many years and will continue this tradition again in the Spring 2019 semester. One of our most senior participants, George Brusch IV, GPSA’s Director of Federal Government Affairs and doctoral candidate in the Biology program, has attended seven of these trips to DC over the last four years.

Want to know how you can get involved? There’s one easy way to do so: Vote in the November 6 midterm election if you are eligible! And if you are not eligible, make sure all your friends who are eligible know why voting is important and get out to the polls!

Have any questions about communicating with your legislators, one of the issues in this semester’s advocacy platform, or how to get involved in advocacy? Contact Vice President of External Affairs Sarah Geren, Director of Advocacy Alyssa Henning, Director of Federal Government Affairs George Brusch IV, or Director of State and Local Government Affairs Christian Ross. GPSA advocates on behalf of all ASU graduate and professional students, but even more important is our role in empowering graduate students to be their own advocates. Let us know how we can better advocates for you and support you in your own advocacy efforts!