When ASU students Nic Parra and Mark Webb attended the ASU Alumni Association’s Legislative Breakfast in early January, it was the words of ASU President Michael Crow that would inspire the idea for their next big project. This project would take them and their team all the way to the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting from March 21 to March 22.
Parra said Crow spoke at length about how ASU alumni and other outside parties need to pressure the Arizona Legislature to continue to provide funding to the University, though he failed to mention student advocacy.
“It was eye-opening, because when he started talking about advocacy, he only talked about adults,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I can do my part and be more involved in the political process, then we can have our voices heard.’”
So Parra and Webb, both business sophomores, partnered with Parra’s colleague from the Undergraduate Student Government, psychology senior Jordan Hibbs, to form Sun Devil Student Advocates.
The trio aim for SDSA to be a branch of the ASU Alumni Association, which would encourage students to advocate for their own university to Arizona lawmakers, using methods similar to those of the Alumni Association.
Parra said he doesn’t believe ASU students see political activism as a priority, and that’s something he and his team would like to change.
“It’s kind of sad if you look at USG elections, how apathetic the student body is in general,” he said. “We have about 3-5 percent participation from the students.”
Parra said hopefully increased student advocacy for University funding will result in more financial aid for struggling students. He said he’s excited to see what he and his team can learn from their experiences at the CGIU meeting to further their organization.
Parra described the day they were notified of their selection to the event.
“I screamed so loud, I must have woken up the entire building,” he said. “I woke up my roommate. It was at 8 in the morning, and I screamed, and I called Jordan, and I called Mark and just screamed. We didn’t think we had a way in hell honestly. We thought it was too small.”
Hibbs said her group hopes to become informed about how to get their organization up and running at the CGIU meeting.
“We have what we think is a great idea, and we want to learn how to form it and create into something that’s actually going to make a difference,” she said. “Networking with other students is going to be really cool because that’s what our organization is about: it’s about connecting with other students.”
She said she wants SDSA to create lifelong advocates out of current students so the University will always have ample support, both internally and externally.
“It’s another way for students to start getting involved with the University now, so when they leave the University they can still feel like they’re part of the University, and feel like a part of a whole so they can keep advocating after they leave,” she said. “It leads straight into the Alumni Association with their advocates.”
On a larger scale, Hibbs said the group hopes eventually organizations such as SDSA will be found across the country.
“I hope it can be a model for other universities, because I think students should be involved in advocating for their university,” she said.
Martha Byrd, the executive director of operations at the ASU Alumni Association, has been engaging in informal discussions with the SDSA group about how the two organizations could coordinate in the future.
Byrd said she values the students’ initiative in getting their peers involved with political advocacy.
“One of the things that was great to hear was that they were interested,” she said. “It’s nice to see them involved in something that can affect them. I think it’s great they think they need to be involved in what’s going on and that they can be helping in a very productive way.”
Byrd said student advocacy groups such as SDSA will make Arizona lawmakers’ jobs easier by helping them understand students’ issues from the students themselves.
“I think that having them understand from a student’s direct perspective can be helpful,” she said. “The students are really helping to show how students can gain from their work and support.”
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