On Road to Richmond, students become lobbyists

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January 30, 2009

12:26 AM

RICHMOND, Va. — Thirty-five students struggled out of bed in the middle of the night to represent their school before the legislators of Virginia yesterday in Richmond. The group spent all of Thursday morning putting a face to the College of William and Mary.

Students who participated in the annual Road to Richmond lobbying trip first met with delegates, senators and their staffers over breakfast at the Virginia State Library. They then walked to the General Assembly building where they observed and participated in the lobbying process. Undergraduates from each class, and even a few graduate students, participated.

Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3rd District), who represents Williamsburg, greeted the students at the GA building and described the importance of their mission.

“This is not a waste of time,” he said. “It is so important that the legislators put faces to these issues. You guys are the important faces.”

Many of the issues facing the College this year result from the broad economic crises now gripping the state and the country. While everyone conceded that the state contribution to the College will be cut by at least 15 percent, issues such as high tuition, the proportion of out-of-state students and projects like the Eminent Scholar Program remain hot topics affecting both the College and the state budget.

Despite the controversial issues facing the college, the priority was not to debate these issues with legislators. The students were prepared to do so, but the goal of the event was to encourage the legislators to think of students as real people instead of just facts and figures.

By and large students appreciated their time at the General Assembly.

“It’s a good opportunity for students to get involved beyond the college community,”
Tara Safaie ’12 said. “The fact that [the state government] let us come here is great.”

Eric Robinson ’12 joined Road to Richmond after he received an e-mail advertising the event.
“It was a good chance to see the process — how college is funded — and to play a part in that process,” he said.

Student Assembly Vice President Kristin Slawter ’09 stressed the importance of giving back to one’s school.
“It’s important to give back to the College. So many have given back and we need to continue to give back,” she said. “You are a part of school for life.”

Delegates William K. Barlow (D-64th District) — who represents Williamsburg — and Bill Janis (R-56th District) left a particularly profound impression on the students they encountered.

Barlow, whose son graduated from the College and the Marshall-Wythe School of Law, related his own college experience to students.

“We — my generation — didn’t realize how good we had it,” Barlow said. Barlow attended Virginia Tech on a $1,000 annual scholarship, which paid for all of his expenses. “You students are working hard, doing the best you can, and you should have the opportunities. The best investment we can make is in young people.”

While Barlow garnered respect with his anecdotes and rhetoric, Janis impressed students with his personality and skill in languages. First speaking with one student in German, then another in Farsi, Janis displayed an interest in learning about the students.

Throughout the day, the issues took a backseat to personal interaction between the legislators and students. Brittany Constance ’09, who organized the event, said the goal wasn’t to discuss the issues, but to represent the College.

“We want them to know who the students are. The legislators enjoy getting to know them and what they are interested in,” Constance said. “It was a positive experience overall.”

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