Huskies on the Hill goes virtual

Student lobbyists across all UW campuses rally around student interests and human rights with local legislators.

For the first time, the Huskies on the Hill Event — an annual event in which 70 student lobbyists from across the UW campuses — gathered together via zoom to lobby members of the Washington legislature regarding equity and accessibility on campus. 

“Usually this is an in-person event where people go down to Olympia and actually go talk to the legislators face-to-face but COVID has made it really challenging to get meetings as effectively,” said Sam Locke, the UW Bothell Legislative Lead Lobbyist.

Student Phoebe Walker said the remote nature made the event more accessible for students who don’t have the resources or time to be able to travel to Olympia. 

“There’s definitely a smaller turnout but we also feel like it was much more accessible because normally people would have to miss an entire day of class on Friday and take a bus at 6 a.m. an hour and a half past to Olympia and be there all-day and come back up get back at like 7 p.m.,” Walker said. 

They also explained that the number of people who signed up and attended was a higher rate compared to last year. 

“I think with things being online we had a lower drop out rate between people who RSVP’s, people who attended our training, and then people who actually showed up on the day,” said Walker.

Locke noted that she was surprised because the number of people who signed up and followed through this year rose in comparison to last year.

“Normally we would only have like maybe half or less than half of the people who RSVP actually show up on the day of [the event], so it was really great for it to be easier for students to actually interact with the legislators and I’m really happy with how it’s gone,” Locke said.

Another student, Roy Alexander, shared Walker’s sentiment of the event’s accessibility.

“I’m attending the event wearing pajamas right now, so it’s definitely something anyone can do if they have the time,” Alexander said.

Conversely, Locke noted that it was also less accessible because some legislators had difficulties adjusting to zoom and utilizing it effectively. They said that misunderstandings with technology sometimes led to even more over-capacity than a traditionally in-person session in Olympia.

Although the long virtual lines may have been an early roadblock, Locke said lobbying went without a hitch once they got into a meeting with the legislators.

“Once you get the meeting, they’re generally pretty receptive,” they said. “I think everything I’ve heard from people today has shown that the legislatures have been listening very closely and really taking note of what we’re discussing and making sure that they’re really hearing what the students need.”

Some of the issues brought to the forefront were diversity, equity and inclusion training, accessible healthcare, childcare for student-parents, police reform and housing security.

In light of the Black Lives Matter movement and the COVID pandemic, Locke said a popular bill among the student lobbyists was Bill SB 5227 — a bill that would mandate diversity inclusion and anti-racism training for faculty and staff and then eventually students as well. 

Walker mentioned that discussions with the legislators were particularly amiable when it came to discussing childcare for students with children. 

“Some of the ones I met with were really responsive to SB 5237, which focuses on expanding access to childcare for students attending community or technical colleges,” Walker said.

Another student, Cathy Pick, said they had a similar experience and lobbied for housing security regarding the ongoing pandemic.

“We got to meet with [legislators] from District 23,” Pick said. “I wanted to talk about bill HB 1166, which [they] sponsored cause there’s some good data about foster kids and how they’re dealing with the pandemic.”

According to Walker, the event started with large group gatherings. It began with an introductory welcome at 9 a.m. From 12 to 1 p.m there was an optional lunch hour and at 4:30, they had their final meetings and closing statements. 

“I think students within the UW across all the campuses really care about equity and making sure that everyone is being afforded their basic human rights, and we’re really seeing that today … I mean, all of the issues we’re talking about are centered in human rights concerns and students who are very enthusiastic to show up and speak out on some issues which directly impact them,” Locke said.

Looking to the future, student Rhiannon Rasaretnam hopes that the technology could be incorporated into next year.

“Last year went great but it seems like it’s easier for students to do this lobbying online so hopefully with next year even if it’s back in person we’ll be able to incorporate some of the online aspects that worked really well and kind of bring that with us for in-person stuff,” Rasaretnam said.