Letter to the Editor: Build relationships with policy makers to create change

Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

In last week’s article, “CMU’s visiting policymakers are all talk, not enough action,” Satvika Neti gets it right: we need to advocate for change and educate ourselves to create it. But there are smart ways to advocate for what you want.

The Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) regularly advocates on behalf of Carnegie Mellon’s graduate population. Recently, we had students in Washington D.C. meet with Senator Bob Casey (D—PA)’s and Representative Michael F. Doyle (D—PA)’s offices to discuss graduate student issues. Our agenda included student visa reform, graduate education funding, open access, open educational resources, and graduate student debt.

These meetings went well, and they were interested in our causes. The GSA has found that giving the right kind of information is how you get policymakers to care. We’re working to become a go-to source of information for these Pennsylvania political offices by sharing graduate student stories, backing our proposals with facts, and generally building working relationship with them.

We were there to make graduate students' experiences vivid for the policy makers. We shared stories of students stuck out of the country because of single-entry visa issues and students who almost had to put the start of their American dream on hold because of graduate student loans. By sharing these experiences, we got them interested in what we had to say.

With their interest piqued, we moved on to providing evidence to support our claims and proposals. As the first people in Casey’s office to support open access, or unrestricted online access to research, we were able to counter publishing industry myths and share how open access policies actually work. Due to that evidence, the staff seemed more receptive in supporting our goals.

The GSA went to D.C. to build relationships with politicians so that we can serve as representatives for graduate student issues. Part of this means that we thanked politicians for supporting our causes, like Casey did when he extended the Perkins Loan program or Doyle does by supporting open access. It also means that we make return trips biannually and maintain communication in the time between our visits.

To make a difference with politicians, you must build relationships based on information sharing. That’s what policymakers want, and that’s what you need to do to create change.

Daniel Gingerich
Ph.D. Student
Engineering and Public Policy
Vice President of External Affairs
Graduate Student Assembly