UW-Eau Claire students lobby for student interests with legislators

Student Senate and other members of campus organizations traveled to Madison to bring attention to and get feedback on key topics and issues

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Students represented a variety of organizations and groups on campus, allowing for a wide range of experiences and perspectives to share with legislators

Editors note: Staff Writer Hillary Smith will be campaigning for Student Senate this spring. The Spectator does not endorse Student Senate activities or any senators’ campaign in any way.

A group of UW-Eau Claire students met with state legislators to discuss topics relevant to student life on campus in the biennial Rally for Excellence event.

Though the group of about 40 comprised primarily members of Student Senate, other students involved in various areas of campus life were also included. The main points students advocated for included reinvestment in the UW System, supporting allocable segregated fees, continuing Eau Claire campus building projects and improving off-campus housing.

Students were broken into smaller groups, each of which met with three or four legislators or their staffers throughout the day to draw attention to the issues and illustrate their importance to student life in higher education.

Kristina Haideman, Intergovernmental Affairs intern, played a major role in coordinating the event. She said she was pleased and impressed with how the day went, especially with how it served as a positive learning experience for the students who went, while also making a direct impact on legislators to progress resources for higher education.

“I think, if we continue to frame things in light of how it helps students, that we can really make a powerful change,” Haideman said.

The first Rally for Excellence took place in 2015 after the $250 million budget cut to the UW System. A $100 million reinvestment in the UW System was included in the state budget, recently proposed by Governor Scott Walker. This reinvestment was a focus for students as they advocated for legislators to support the increased financial support of Wisconsin higher education.

Student Senate’s Intergovernmental Affairs Director,  Nick Webber, highlighted the reinvestment as an important point for student governance to bring legislative attention to.  

“I think we were so passionate because we knew how it felt to lose a lot with the budget cuts that came in 2015,” Webber said. “We came in determined and said, ‘We’re not going to let this happen again,’ because we saw the effects it had on the campus and the community.”

The proposed state budget includes an opt-out option for allocable segregated fees, which are fees students pay that are then used for various resources, organizations and activities around campus.

Student Body President Ashley Sukhu said the opt-out piece of the budget is an example of the importance for students to actively engage with legislators; allocable segregated fees were not necessarily on legislators’ radars, but they have a major impact on student life.

Sukhu said she thinks the face-to-face interaction between students and legislators is an effective way to reconnect legislators with their constituents, as well as remind them of how student life operates. The interests of students are best represented by students themselves.

“Times change. That’s part of the beauty of student governments, is they change with those times,” Sukhu said. “The way students perceive issues on college campuses change with the student governments, and how those issues are then addressed, it makes for it to not be stagnant. People are always growing with the organizations.”

The 2017-2019 Wisconsin state budget will be voted on in June.