During the last legislative session, South Carolina was very close to finally updating the Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA) by passing the Healthy Youth Amendment, H. 3435. As you know, the CHEA is a law in desperate need of updating so students can have access to medically accurate health education. It was this issue that brought out the passion and excitement in a group of Master of Social Work students with the University of South Carolina, College of Social Work. These students learned about the messy-yet-exciting legislative process all the while being over 100 miles from the state capitol.
So what did they do exactly, you ask? First, it may be helpful to tell you a bit about the course to gain an appreciation of their hard work and dedication: students have four months to learn about the state legislative process, study and analyze a bill, develop an advocacy plan, and implement the plan with measurable outcomes. It is no small feat for anyone, let alone students balancing additional classes, jobs, families, and other responsibilities.
Here is a taste of their hard work: first they consulted with the experts on reproductive health advocacy, Tell Them. Then they brainstormed and drafted an editorial that was published in both the Greenville News and The State. They next developed an Instagram photo petition to help Tell Them advocate for H. 3435, they drafted letters, made phone calls and had in-person meetings with their local representatives. They also advocated within their local school districts to request updated curriculum and (at a minimum) follow the current law, and much more.
Are you inspired yet? But wait, there is more! All of their hard work and dedication toward advocating for the passage of H. 3435 was rewarded by winning the 2014 Influencing State Policy contest. Students will be recognized formally in May 2015 during the Policy 2.0 conference in Austin, Texas. This conference brings social work students and faculty from around the nation together to learn about social work policy practice. A few of them hope to attend the conference and present their work on H. 3435. Hopefully, they will be able to share with the nation that South Carolina has updated the CHEA during 2015 legislative session.
Advocacy is a skill that is best learned by directly engaging in the process. The most effective advocates have to feel something that goes beyond completing a class assignment. Passion is needed to go above and beyond and push toward changing a policy and system that is critical to the future health of South Carolinians. The exciting thing is that every day citizens like yourself and these six students can be involved in changing local policy. It only takes a bit of time, interest, and boldness to be part of the change.