Still humble and hopeful
Kenneth Oldfield follows up on his 2007 About Campus article.
The Center / May 04, 2021
Advocacy is most broadly defined as “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). The first thought that comes to mind to #AdvocateFirstgen may relate to engaging with state and/or federal legislators on policies or laws of importance to first-generation students. Those are important interactions, and the skills and tactics related to legislative interactions can be applied to advocacy efforts on campus.
Several levels of advocacy exist at most colleges and universities: institutional, faculty and staff advocacy, and student advocacy. Each offers different ways to engage on important issues that affect the institution and its community.
Institutional advocacy relates to the official position an institution takes. Public institutions, in particular, are often interested in state legislative activity related to higher education funding. Private institutions may also take positions on funding, given that they may indirectly benefit from such measures as state funding for college scholarships. Both types of institutions may take interest in a variety of social issues. Recent examples garnering much interest include policies related to COVID-19 or freedom of speech rights.
Institutional policies generally emerge from strategic discussions between senior leadership and government affairs staff members. Government affairs staff members will engage in various outreach activities such as meeting with government officials or their legislative assistants to offer information as subject matter experts. Institutions may issue public statements of support or sign on to letters of support with organizations advocating for the same position. Many institutions work with lobbyists who advocate on their behalf with legislators.
Faculty and staff can engage in campus advocacy in several ways. They can advocate for various positions through committee work that involves reviewing campus policies that impact students. In this way, they can be particularly effective allies for first-generation students by identifying policies that present barriers to first-generation student success and recommending changes that remove jargon or make the student experience easier to navigate. They may be in a position to advocate for additional student services or partnerships with community organizations if they identify gaps in student resources.
Faculty and staff members can engage in advocacy for causes that are important to them personally. Actions taken as private citizens are permissible; however, individuals should be clear that they are acting as individuals and not as representatives of the institution.
Student advocacy on campus can arise from students’ desire to change campus policies or from their desire to support social causes. A student organization and/or a coalition of organizations and individual students may drive advocacy efforts, and faculty and/or staff members may join at times. Advocates commonly use tactics such as social media campaigns, marches or rallies, or meetings with leadership regarding an issue and its impact on students.
Opportunities to #AdvocateFirstgen exist for individuals at all levels of the institution from students to institutional leadership. Individuals can employ many of the same tactics effectively whether the audience is an elected official, the institution’s chancellor or president, or society at large in the case of social issues. We encourage you to share your #AdvocateFirstgen efforts on social media. Remember to tag @FirstgenCenter and use the hashtag #AdvocateFirstgen.
What strategies have helped you to successfully champion first-generation students? Share your perspective on first-generation student advocacy and pertienent policy issues across social media with #AdvocateFirstgen.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Advocacy. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved April 29, 2021, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/advocacy