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April 3, 2018

Former President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” For one class assignment, five students have used Roosevelt’s advice to educate and share their passion for a legislative bill. 

Master of Social Work students Kathryn Buckley, Lexy Felton, Flavia Gibson, Kendall Moore and Amanda Sandford are students in Professor Kristina Webber’s class, Advanced Policy for Social Work Practice: Children, Youth and Families. At the beginning of this semester, their group came together when they all chose the policy assignment topic, “Educational Opportunities for Dreamers.”

“Balancing various responsibilities along with allotting the time needed to strategize and carry out our plan has made me aware of the amount of effort that is needed in advocacy,” said Sandford. “It was difficult at first to think of what we could do that would be feasible for the semester and most meaningful towards what we ultimately want to achieve.”   

The students decided to focus their efforts on the South Carolina Dreamers Act of 2018 (House Bill 4435/Senate Bill 869), which is legislation that would allow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients (often called “Dreamers”) in South Carolina to qualify for in-state tuition rates, certain state-based merit earned scholarships and professional licenses. The crossover date for the legislation is April 10, 2018, the last day for a bill to move out of the chamber in which it was introduced and move forward for consideration in the opposite chamber. If nothing is moved forward, the process must start from the beginning in 2019.

“Since our assignment is about policy, the South Carolina Dreamers Act was a perfect plan for us to advocate and push because it is something presented in the legislature right now,” said Moore. “It was fortunate for us to have something we can support right now. The class itself has helped us because we are required to prepare an ‘elevator speech’ to prepare us for talking with legislators and learning more about advocacy.”

With a limited amount of time, the students first created an advocacy plan for the bill through on-and-off-campus efforts. 

“We set up a ‘Take 5 Table’ inside the College of Social Work to talk with students and others on why the bill is important in not only a social work context,” said Felton. “There was also an effort to get people to call their representatives and tell them to vote ‘yes’ so it can move on to the next step in the House.”

Gibson added how the group moved quickly with an imminent deadline.

“We were stuck at first because there’s only so much we could do in a short time period,” said Gibson. “Part of our advocacy plan is calling our legislators to tell them to support the bill and meeting people in person to make a bigger impact. At first, the thought of speaking with a legislator was very intimidating. But as we became more involved with the advocacy plan, we were more confident about speaking with everyone. We used each other’s strengths and weaknesses to accomplish the task.”

The group also collaborated with the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, an organization advocating for social service issues, especially immigration rights.

“Knowing we had a small window of opportunity due to the April 10 deadline helped ignite the fire to get more people aware and involved with the issue,” said Sandford. “I didn't think the five of us had much to offer to make a difference but working with SC Appleseed has reaffirmed the importance and power of collaboration in this field. They graciously provided us with information, tools and guidance we needed to help us begin and follow through with our plans. It is a confusing and overwhelming process to deal with legislation, so it has been great to have an established group committed toward the same goal to use as a resource.” 

Webber’s assignment has also helped Felton increase her knowledge about DACA and the importance of research.

“I went from not knowing a lot about DACA, to being part of this group, understanding more about the legislation, and advocating and sitting in on meetings where I can make a difference in the not just the university community, but the Columbia area as well,” said Felton. “This project is something all of us are very passionate about, and I’ve learned that it makes a huge difference by researching a topic before advocating.”

According to Moore, another benefit of the class is the importance of educating oneself and others on the issue.

“There might be a lot of misconceptions on social media or what people have heard, especially with this bill,” said Moore. “The class itself has really helped us understand how educating people is important in advocacy. People must know what is actually happening and not just go off on what they see on the news or social media.”

But aside from their specific topic, the assignment has helped the group learn about general advocacy for future policies, legislations and campaigns they support.

“As social workers in advocacy work, our main ability is to use our knowledge to educate others,” said Buckley. “While we might not be able to necessarily persuade someone, we can give them the information they need to consider other viewpoints and look at things differently. We’re just trying to research as much as we can and pass along that knowledge to others.”

Gibson added how passion is also an important component of advocacy.

“Personally, I have always been passionate about this topic for many reasons,” said Gibson. “But seeing how the group’s passion about this advocacy plan grew over the weeks has been very inspiring and proof that when people with the same passion and goals get together, there is so much more that can be accomplished.”

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