Although the idea of government and politics can seem distant to students who don’t commonly interact with legislators, Student Government (SG) makes this idea tangible.
The Day at the Capitol — held Tuesday — provides the opportunity for students to travel to Tallahassee and speak with lawmakers about concerns USF faces. In previous years, this has included the need for funding for the downtown health center, STEM-related initiatives and preeminence.
Sierra Francis, the SG organizer for Day at the Capitol, said students from all three campuses regardless of major are invited to come up to Tallahassee.
“Every single year, students from first-years to graduate students, faculty members,” she said. “We have students from every campus in a group.”
Students are split into groups to speak with available legislators on previously determined topics. Francis said it’s usually about 15 students in each group and they’re encouraged to share their student perspectives on issues.
Day at the Capitol is an annual event organized by SG, usually taking place when the legislature is not in session so the legislators have more time.
Students from Tampa will leave at about 4 a.m. Tuesday to drive up to Tallahassee on charter buses, spend their day with the legislators and then drive back to Tampa that night. Students from St. Petersburg typically leave about 2 a.m. and students from Sarasota-Manatee stay over the night before, according to Francis.
Francis said she’s not able to disclose what this year’s initiatives are, but that they’re usually inspired by things the students need and things the students want. Currently, the Florida Board of Governors (BOG) is continuing — from last year — to push for better funding for mental health on campus.
“Last year, there was a big push for the mental health resources,” Francis said. “That was a lot because students understand that college is an extremely difficult and trying time in your life, but it can also be one of the most rewarding life-changing experiences that you have.”
According to Francis, Day at the Capitol benefits the students who attend as well as students who don’t. The students who don’t attend see the benefits of USF being represented to the legislators and USF’s issues being heard.
“Aside from a lot of the free things they get such as three free meals, a t-shirt and a few other things, they really have the opportunity to do three things,” she said. “They get to apply the skills they’re learning in the classroom. Public speaking, rational thinking, clear and concise messages. They can do that through their meetings because they’re meeting with legislators about a very precise initiative or priority. It helps a lot of students who have a hard time with public speaking, it helps with them getting more comfortable.”
In addition to that, it helps with networking. Not just students who are political science majors or international studies, but there are legislators and alumni who attend our reception, which is held in the evening. Those people are well versed in many different professions. They (students) get to network not only with legislators, people in their profession, but also other student leaders. Most of the people who sign up for our event are student leaders so they get to meet one another.”