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Fall 2019 Advocacy Learnings: Little “P” Policy, Relationship-Building, and Risk-Taking

R&D Lab: Student Advocacy

Pictured above (L to R): Katie Gouge (University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Swipe Social Media Coordinator), Kaylee Sheppard (University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Swipe Vice President), Owen Flomberg (University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Swipe President), and Katie Stapleton (University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Swipe Director of Advocacy) at the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature.

This fall, we brought together student leaders and organizational partners from across the country to put some concrete tools and next steps to their advocacy dreams at the campus, state, and federal level. 

We were joined by former Policy Analyst at the Center for Law & Social Policy Carrie R. Welton and SNAP Outreach Interagency Specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance and former student leader Alana Davidson, and a group of Swipe Out Hunger student leaders at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville who are pushing for higher education basic needs policy across their state: Owen Flomberg (Swipe President), Kaylee Sheppard (Swipe Vice President), Travis Dukes (Swipe Co-Director of Programming), and Ashlyn Anderson (Swipe Coordinator of External Partnerships).

Here’s what we took away from their wealth of experiences, case studies, and words of wisdom:

Don’t Overlook Administrative Policies

While administrative shifts in SNAP eligibility and access and work study funding might not be as flashy as large-scale legislation, Welton reminds us not to overlook their immense impact in students’ day-to-day. She distinguishes between “Big P Policy,” referencing state or federal legislation, and “Little P Policy,” referencing administrative processes, to direct us to the incredible opportunity in digging into our local state plans and human services. 

“You can’t wait to make friends when you need them.” – Carrie R. Welton

It all starts with identifying key partners and starting those relationships. Davidson reflects on her own time as a student leader in building her base through campus partnerships, highlighting food as an intersectional issue. Students working in social justice (environmental justice, housing rights, mental health programming, etc.) are all touching food access as well– how will you invite them into your movement?

University of Tennessee, Knoxville students share about how they have been doing this work by partnering with campus organizations, as well as statewide by inviting legislators to everything they do, from awareness events to town halls. This is how they have been starting the conversation in Tennessee, so that when opportunities arise, they will already have a base.

The Power of Data

We all know the staggering numbers of food and housing insecurity among colleges students, but localized data is vital in getting the attention of legislators. In her time as an undergrad at the University of New Hampshire, Davidson conducted research on her campus, finding that one in four respondents were food insecure, which got the attention of many decision makers, from the university’s Dean of Students to the Governor of New Hampshire. Davidson also highlighted the significance of that data in bringing the student experience into the room.

Take a Risk When the Moment Presents Itself

All of our guests highlight moments when they may have hesitated, but acted anyway when they found themselves in the room with a key decision maker or came across an opportunity to present their dreams. Student leaders at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville presented on college student food security at the Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature, an opportunity to put forth legislative recommendations, one of the several pathways they are taking to get the issue in front of their state government. 

Leverage Media

Colleges love good press. Launching basic needs programs and decreasing rates of student food and housing insecurity are more and more areas that universities are expected to address. Throughout college, Davidson was able to utilize media to encourage the university to make institutional changes that secured sustainable basic needs programs.

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