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Taking Action to Advocate

VWU students meet with legislators during Student Day of Action at the state capitol

University News | February 15, 2024

VWU students visited the state capitol during the current legislative session for a STUDENT DAY OF ACTION hosted by Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP). Members of the Virginia Wesleyan delegation included: Christian Palmisano, Josh Spicer, Kaylee Grimstead, Emma Lankford, Alexis Bailey, and Christopher Mercer-Garrett. 

While in Richmond, the students met with legislators and their staff members to advocate for important policies affecting thousands of Virginians. Some met with members of Senator Aaron Rouse's staff to discuss his support of bills before the Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee -- a committee he serves on that deals with criminal justice issues. Among other subjects, the bills dealt with restricting the use of attack canines (HB 159) and providing lower or no cost communications to people incarcerated in Virginia’s prisons (HB 801).  Delegates Askew and Hernandez also received visits from students who explored their positions on legislation related to a range of issues including affordable housing and support for community health workers.    

The students prepared for their visit and meetings with legislators by attending an "Advocacy 101" training session offered by VICPP Executive Director Kim Bobo who offered suggestions on how to conduct visits with legislators, how to issue briefings, and more generally what to expect when visiting the General Assembly.  Following the legislator visits, the delegations from various colleges and universities around the Commonwealth gathered to debrief and analyze what they heard during the exchanges with elected officials. They also attended workshops on key issues facing Virginia in the coming year. 

"The legislators took a good bit of time with us, even though time was scarce," explained VWU Director of Civic Engagement and Service Learning Bethany Tsiaras, who coordinated the Marlins' participation in the event, along with Lecturer in Political Science James Moskowitz. "We were there just before 'crossover' which is the deadline for bills to make it out of their respective lawmaking chambers if they hope to become law this session," explained Moskowitz. 

The experience was eye-opening for these students who agreed that being an advocate for a cause you believe in is certainly vital to getting things done to improve peoples’ lives.

For sophomore Kaylee Grimstead, seeing all of the work that goes into getting legislation on the floor of the House of Delegates and the state Senate was especially astonishing. “All the legislators were just busy trying to get things done in their individual committees and trying to get bills passed through. It was also very surprising to find out that Virginia has the highest number of attack dog canine incidents in prison. Not just by state, but Virginia has the most incidents out of every state combined (HB 159).”

She noted that the impact this bill had on her was positive. “I am definitely in favor of cutting down on use of attack dogs in prison or not using them at all. The two legislative aides we met with who were representing Alex Askew and Aaron Rouse, had told us that we didn’t need to worry about them not voting in favor of that bill, so it's nice to know that there are legislators doing good things in Richmond. I definitely want to go back next year!"