Huskies on the Hill: A day to lobby for student interests

Huskies once again convened at the state’s capital in Olympia to partake in the annual Huskies on the Hill. Around 80 students from all three University of Washington campuses came together to lobby state legislators for change and support on key issues which the student governments of UW deemed relevant in the pursuit of higher education. Each campus came prepared with their own legislative agendas and priorities for the day. The event is meant to give students a structured introduction on how to lobby in an environment with plenty of support. 

For the event, students were split into teams with a mix of students from every campus, of which most were in the same legislative district or were from a neighboring district, and were given an agenda of meetings to attend throughout the day. These meetings ranged from five to 15 minutes. During this time, students proposed the initiatives that most resonated with them to the legislators and made a case for why they felt it was important that they gained the legislator’s support. Students could also bring up other issues they were passionate about, and were encouraged to share personal anecdotes about how these initiatives would impact them, their loved ones and their community. 

“I think the experience was beneficial not only for the school and our government but students as well,” said Ruba Shahbin, a student who attended this event from UW Tacoma. “It’s a learning experience and an opportunity for students to get involved, passionate and interested in the world around them. I’m glad we put ourselves out there so our government recognizes that we pay attention and we do care.” 

For UWT students, there were four main focuses which students pitched to legislators. Child care services, inequity and accessibility services, mental health services for students and an expansion of resources for housing affordability and accessibility. Some of these had bills in the house or senate which students canvased support for, while others were simply bringing awareness of the issue at hand to the representatives.

In the realm of child care and services, UWT Huskies lobbied for continued work on support for a house bill which was passed last year. HB 2158 has several parts to it, and the section which students were wanting to continue work on was the section relating to the Working Connections Child Care program, specifically providing an exemption to parents wanting to earn either a bachelor or advanced degree.

Under accessibility, students were concerned about the impact which the most recent approval of Initiative 976, also known as the $30 car tabs, and its impact on the accessibility and expansion it would have on transportation services. 

For housing, students asked legislators to look into providing a waiver for on-campus housing for students who are eligible for the College Bound Scholarship and who had previously experienced homelessness. Ronan Houston, a sophomore at UWT, found this to be a good overall experience and a chance to share something which he is passionate about. 

“I attended Huskies on the Hill to lobby for stronger housing rights for renters,” Houston said. “I’ve never lobbied before but the event was worth it. Meeting with the legislators felt like an effective way to get my message across.”

Other side-objectives students could have brought up to representatives included work to lower carbon and greenhouse emissions, repeal a Revised Code of Washington so that incarcerated workers would be recognized as employees and students also advocated for state-wide recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, something which Tacoma has already done at the city level.

Beyond the personal growth that many students gained from this experience and the recognition of the wider potential for change, there was also a sense of what a powerful message that an event of this nature sends. 

Sean Arent, the city liaison for UWT, provided his view as someone who is familiar to the world of lobbying.

“If there’s one thing to take away from this experience, as well as any lobbying experience, it’s that our state legislators are very accessible and they’re by and large regular people,” Arent said. “Anybody can lobby, and when our higher education system is constantly being stripped of its resources, we should. Legislators talk about policy all day, but what they don’t always hear are the stories of students like you.”