Texas Students Visit Capitol Hill for the First Time
In early March 2018, a multi-university coalition of Texas audiology students traveled to Washington, DC to advocate for their profession at the highest levels of government. The group was comprised of sixteen students from the University of Texas at Dallas, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and Lamar University. For many, this trip was their first exposure to in-person advocacy and their first time visiting our nation’s capital. As Texas is one of the few states that’s legislature is only in session every two years, this trip took the place of National Day at Your State Capitol (NDAYSC). Coordination for the trip was undertaken by the Texas SAA Ambassador, Alex Morris. The Ambassadors program is a new Student Academy of Audiology initiative in its pilot year. Travel to Washington, DC was largely self-funded and the students are grateful to have had the financial support and encouragement of both the Texas Academy of Audiology and the greater national audiology community.
While in DC, the group was able to visit the American Academy of Audiology headquarters, have coffee with Texas Senator John Cornyn, tour the White House, visit with audiology students at Gallaudet University, and meet with their elected officials. At Gallaudet University the group was able to gain a better perspective of the deaf college student experience through a campus tour and also learn more about friendly spaces for individuals with hearing loss by visiting the innovative Sorensen Language and Communication Center. Amanda Frost from the University of Texas at Dallas said, “I think it’s important for all of those pursuing careers in audiology or communication disorders to learn about Deaf culture and Gallaudet was a great place to enhance our understanding.”
The group took to Capitol Hill on Friday, March 9, and met with staff members from fifteen offices accompanied by members of the American Academy of Audiology Government Relations team. Students were primarily discussing the Access to Frontline Healthcare Act (HR 2042) and the impact this legislation could potentially have on those pursuing graduate education. Additionally, the students discussed World Hearing Day and thanked lawmakers for introducing a resolution to join the World Health Organization to raise awareness on this topic. Increasing awareness for audiology and hearing health-related issues is important for the general public and lawmakers alike. Following her first experience with advocacy, Mariana Castle of Lamar University had this to say about her experience: “Speaking with staff members from my home state allowed me to connect with them on a personal level. It was a great opportunity for me to share firsthand the difficulties we face as students, how changes impacting students will eventually impact our patients, and the life-changing impact an audiologist can have."
In preparation for the trip students sought to establish a relationship with the offices they would be visiting. They wrote letters, sent emails, and called staff members to lay the groundwork for their March 9 visit. After reflecting on her experience, Audrey Taylor of the University of Texas at Dallas said her DC advocacy experience was “without a doubt one of the highlights of my time during graduate school. I truly believe that we as audiologists have so much to offer to the public and that it is up to us to lead our field in the directions that we want to go.”
This trip was the first advocacy collaboration between Texas students from multiple AuD programs and serves as a powerful example of what students can accomplish when working together. Several students have been attendees at audiology student leadership conferences, including the inaugural Student Leaders of Audiology Conference (SLAC) and the Future Leaders of Audiology Student Conference (FLASC). This leadership development experience had a tangible impact on the way students approached their roles as advocates for the future of the profession. Jackie Vizcaino of Texas Tech University said, “Advocating on Capitol Hill was an amazing experience. I became passionate about advocacy after attending FLASC where I had the opportunity to learn about issues affecting the field. Speaking with our representatives was a great way to put my knowledge into practice and makes me look forward to the future of this profession.” The Texas students hope their experience will serve as encouragement and motivation for other students to get involved in advocacy at the state and national level.