On March 13, more than 80 advocates from 31 states and every NAFSA region participated in NAFSA’s Advocacy Day, meeting virtually with 65 congressional offices to push for legislation and increased funding to advance the field. Specifically, this year’s cohort urged their elected officials to cosponsor the Keep STEM Talent Act to make the United States more welcoming to international students and the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act to make study abroad more diverse in participation and destination. Advocates also urged support for increased funding for international education and exchange programs at the Departments of Education and State. 

Participants reported some very positive conversations, including a couple of firm commitments. Those commitments may not be made public right away due to the "Noah’s Ark rule," which is the practice of adding bill cosponsors in pairs: one Republican for every Democrat, and vice versa. (Now you know!)

The congressional meetings followed a half day of virtual training and orientation for advocates the week before. The training and orientation began with the education staffer for Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) providing a first-hand perspective on tips for successful advocacy on Capitol Hill, and the day culminated with the joyful announcement of Chimin Lee Metzler as the 2024 NAFSA Advocate of the Year! In between, NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Fanta Aw and Deputy Executive Director for Public Policy Jill Allen Murray offered insights on where they find hope and opportunity heading into Advocacy Day and the general election, and NAFSA policy experts Rachel Banks and Heather Stewart briefed advocates on the asks they’d be making of Congress.

Participants found it to be an empowering and positive experience—as shown by the smiles on advocates’ faces and comments such as “It was an amazing experience and crash course in citizen advocacy - y'all made it streamlined to participate!” 

Although Advocacy Day is now over, NAFSA's engagement with Congress continues. It's never too late to get involved! You can add your voice to this stellar cohort of Advocacy Day participants with just a few clicks of the mouse on NAFSA's "Take Action" web page. Also, consider the policy- and advocacy-related programming at the NAFSA 2024 Annual Conference & Expo to initiate or enrich your own advocacy practice:

  • Workshop: "Advocacy Toolkit 101 – Developing a Resilient Strategy" with NAFSA Advocates of the Year, Alexis Akagawa, Shannon Bedo, Abby Conder Lussier, and Katie Jabri; 
  • "International Education Leaders and Advocacy on Campus" and in the United States Congress featuring Shannon Bedo; and,
  • "Policymaking in International Education: The View from Washington, D.C.," featuring Rachel Banks.

And last but certainly not least, with the U.S. general election coming up in November, now is a perfect time to begin planning how to get out the vote on your campus. The U.S. Department of Education has released a student voter toolkit to help educational institutions identify and implement actions to support students’ participation in voting. It includes “explanations of current legal requirements for schools, recommendations for non-partisan steps they can take to expand voter participation across their student bodies, federal resources they can utilize and share to support voters in their communities, and examples from the field with effective and promising strategies from schools across the nation.”

Especially important is supporting U.S. students who will be abroad during the election. The Overseas Vote Foundation has a Study Abroad and Vote! toolkit complete with downloadable social media graphics, tear-off sheets, and flyers. The Federal Voting Assistance Program has state-specific information on election dates, deadlines, and submission methods.

For inspiration on the importance of exercising our democratic right to vote, be sure to read Fanta Aw’s reflection in the March issue of International Educator, "We Cannot By Bystanders." The title says it all. Thank you for doing your part!