Stories From The Hill - Advocacy Day
Each March, Region X-ers head to Washington, DC to meet with their state representatives and advocate for international education. After a day of training and strategizing, Region X-ers head to Capitol Hill with all the tools they need to educate members of Congress on how international education impacts their state and district and why we need a more globally engaged United States. If you are interested in Advocacy Day and how to get involved check out Connecting Our World.
Claudia Herbert Colfer
My name is Claudia Herbert Colfer and I am a M.A. Candidate at Columbia University. On March 18-19, 2019, I attended NAFSA’s Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. The objective of NAFSA’s Advocacy Day was to talk to the staff working on Capitol Hill about the importance of international students and study abroad programs. Being part of this event was a memorable experience. As an international student, it was very empowering to be able to share my story and to advocate on behalf of so many international students that are increasingly facing obstacles when trying to come to this country to pursue an education. Welcoming international scholars has a very positive effect on the US and offers numerous benefits to US citizens. It does not only contribute to the US economy, but it also offers the chance for American students to broaden their cultural horizons and practice different languages with their international classmates. It was an honor to share this message with the staff at the Capitol and, after the event, I am more motivated than ever to continue spreading this message. Thank you NAFSA for helping international students succeed in the US and for giving us a voice!
College of Mount Saint Vincent
Thanks to a NAFSA Region X travel grant, I was able to travel to Washington, D.C. this year to participate in Advocacy Day for the first time. On Monday, March 18, a group of 197 international education professionals and students, from 42 states, gathered in the ballroom of the historic Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. for an all-day training session. A vast majority of this group were first time advocates and I’m sure they were as happy as I was to be so thoroughly prepared.
It was decided, because the New York delegation (NAFSA Region X) was so large, and the timings of the meetings (in two different buildings) so close, that half of us would visit Senator Charles Schumer’s office and the other half would go to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s office. I volunteered to be a part of the Gillibrand delegation and we, including three SUNY New Paltz students, would meet with her staffer.
The next day, Tuesday, March 19, was a slightly chilly, but sunny day, as we walked across the mall to the United States Capital. I was amazed that, once we passed through security, we were able to walk freely through the Capital buildings. Congress was in recess but, on our way to Senator Gillibrand’s office, it was exciting just to see the nameplates of Senators from around the country.
Senator Gillibrand’s staffer, Gil Ruiz, led us to a very comfortable room. We were relieved not to have to speak to him in the hallway, as we were warned could happen if all the meeting rooms were filled. The international educators each had specific agenda items to present and the SUNY New Paltz students had their stories to tell. I gave Gil the statistics on how international students benefit the U.S. economy and talked about how these students were ambassadors from and to their respective countries.
Izabelli, an international student from New Paltz, spoke movingly about her plan to run for office in her home country of Brazil, and her hope to bring democracy there, after she completed her studies. More than a few eyes were shining with tears when she was finished and Gil remarked that he hadn’t heard native English speakers so eloquently communicate on the topic of democracy. Gil told us about his own experience with international students: while he didn’t study abroad himself, he traveled with several international students to Las Vegas to celebrate Thanksgiving with his family.
After enumerating the benefits of both international students and international study, we laid out our three “asks” for Senator Gillibrand: to tweet out her support for international students on April 3; to make a floor statement on international students and scholars on April 11; to sponsor the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Program Act. Gil seemed very receptive and said he’d pass on our requests. We left with a hopeful feeling.
Most of us had a couple of hours before our next meetings. We decided to walk across to the Congressional offices and have lunch in the Rayburn building. On the way, we stopped and took photos outside the Capital. Once in the building, quite a few “cynical New Yorkers” posed for photos in front of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s office.
Since I was the only advocate from NY-16 and Dayna White, Assistant Director at the New York Film Academy, was the only advocate from NY-6 (and because neither of us had done this before), we decided to accompany each other to visit our representatives. Dayna’s Director, Leslie Cummings, didn’t have an afternoon appointment so she also came along with us. After a very reasonably priced lunch in the Rayburn cafeteria, we all headed to the office of Dayna’s representative.
Dayna, Leslie and I met first with NY-6 Representative Grace Meng’s staffer, Jennifer Kwon, and then with NY-16 Representative Eliot Engel’s staffer, Janice Kaguyutan. We got lucky again and didn’t have to meet in a hallway. Ms. Kwon was born in South Korea, raised in Louisville, and returned to South Korea, through the U.S. Fulbright program, to teach English. Ms. Kaguyutan’s father came to the U.S. from the Philippines to attend medical school. Clearly they both understood the importance of international student exchange.
We each presented all the statistics and made our “asks”; Dayna and I also highlighted the accomplishments of specific students at our respective institutions: one student trying to bring attention to plastic pollution in Indonesia and the other to the Ebola virus in Liberia. Ms. Kwon and Ms. Kaguyutan, like Mr. Ruiz, promised to pass on our requests. This was a great experience, which I hope to repeat next year.
Director, International Student & Scholar Services, Drew University
I will continue to do outreach and pay more attention to NAFSA's calls for advocacy! I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity and now understand the process much better - and much less trepidation about reaching out to our congressional reps.
Leigh Lane Peine
Senior Director of Marketing, ECE
I thought it went really well. Our group worked well together, and I thought the conversations flowed very naturally without people trying to step all over one another. And the structure was great - I appreciated the opportunity to be in the group meetings in the morning, which prepared me well for my 1-on-1 meeting in the afternoon. That also went better than I expected. I just sent my thank you note to Rep. Gottheimer's aide.