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Bringing the student voice to create change

January 29, 2021 by Da'Mea Birdsong

Kickoff to the third week of the legislative session and the fourth week of my internship started with State Board team meetings like the first series of Lunch and Learn opportunities hosted by the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Personally, I thought this was a huge step in the right direction for work environments to acknowledge humanity outside of the office and create a safe place for all staff. They do this in hopes to expand this series statewide to make institutions in Washington a safe place for all for people to share their thoughts and experiences. 

At the start of the week, I was introduced with an opportunity to testify on behalf of students all across Washington. HB 1176 is a bill that addresses an issue that affects more people than you may think. This bill would allow for students with fees on their K-12 school accounts be able to access transcripts and apply high school credits to college. The committee was running out of time for the day with two bills with extensive testimony heard before HB 1176, and I was only able to give a brief version of my original testimony. Within this short period of time, I focused my point on being able to speak for and advocate for the students who aim to participate in higher education but are greatly affected by these policies. As a first-generation college student, I was one of those students. When it was my family’s time to celebrate not only my high school graduation, but to send me off to college, a fee on my school account put a pause to all of it. This is one of the biggest reasons I felt responsible for advocating for the students affected by these policies today and continuing the process of breaking barriers for students. 

Settling into the role of a legislative intern, I have made it a task for me to get familiar with each committee as much as possible by watching hearings and testifying in different committees. This Wednesday, the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee had a loaded day with six different bills filled with public testimony and in-depth descriptions of each bill. SB 5161 — Teaching Washington’s tribal history, culture and government — caught my attention especially because of increasing advocacy for Native American culture and history to be recognized, talked about, and celebrated. The bill passed with a slight committee majority at its hearing on Thursday. 

One of my biggest hopes coming out of this is that students will be able to use their voices to those with the power to change the system. With this goal in mind, I have started to network with student leaders on my campus and others to build a team of students able to speak to different experiences and realities. This team of students will be able to provide diverse testimony and represent student experiences ranging from financial sustainability to increasing mental health resources. This is a high hope that I believe I can achieve and hope to get over the new struggles of today’s world. 

Overall, my time here at the State Board has been exciting yet informational as it has introduced me to the structure of institutions that control higher education in Washington state. Through the harsh reality of the world right now, the environment at the State Board is filled with creativity, proactivity and the ability to synchronically work alongside other departments and the process of achieving the goal of advocacy for students.  

Last Modified: 4/16/21, 4:58 PM
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