Varsha Vasudevan, Staff Writer
VCU Student Government Association, or SGA, has been working towards going “a step further” to implement change through lobbying important legislation, according to SGA secretary of state Sydney Biondi.
SGA recently put on its “Annual Lobby Day” on Feb. 21. Leading up to the event, SGA votes on pieces of legislation to support and then lobby the chosen bills at the Virginia 2022 General Assembly Legislative session
Sydney Biondi said Annual Lobby Day is important because it allows SGA to try implementing concrete and specific change.
“I think it’s important to raise these issues to people that we’ve elected to office and say, ‘we’re the real people the laws you’re writing are impacting. These are the issues that are important to us.’”
Biondi said any SGA member can write a resolution or a bill on any topic they are passionate about. The resolution will then be voted on by the body and is passed if SGA as a collective agrees on it. Once it is agreed on, the body “moves forward” with it, according to Biondi.
Biondi said the organization is a communications “liaison” between VCU administration and its students and works to amplify student voices and opinions.
“We’re really just here to represent student voices and get those voices up to administration, make sure all voices are heard and advocate for students on campus,” Biondi said.
SGA went into this year’s lobbying hoping to have “open conversations” with elected officials about issues they felt pertained to the Commonwealth of Virginia, Biondi stated.
“We recognized that most of the issues we were lobbying on weren’t going to be voted on this year; rather, we wanted to put feelers out there for future legislation,” Biondi stated.
Secretary of the interior Reena Pidaparti focuses on “internal campus matters,” and maintains relationships with academic facilities and departments and other colleges. She said the legislation SGA lobbied for was largely for academic policies that have “really important implications” for VCU students.
Pidaparti said SGA lobbied for the Undergraduate Resolution 09 which supports Senate Bill 159. The bill protects low-income students from debt that they may incur during their time in university by not withholding transcripts from students with outstanding student debt.
“I think we all, as students, probably understand the importance of transcripts for any sort of learning opportunity,” Pidaparti said. “Student debt is such a huge problem, but we should not prevent our students from being able to have that resource.”
Pidaparti said lobbying is a form of advocacy important to SGA and hopes the organization will continue advocating for VCU students as well as Richmonders.
“I’m really proud of us and SGA, because I think we’re aware of the space we take up in a city of predominantly Black and brown people,” Pidaparti said. “I think that, you know, what we’re doing is really good work.”
At the General Assembly session on Feb. 21, Del. Jeff Bourne of the 71st district introduced SGA on the House Floor.
“We [elected officials] have a responsibility to uplift and honor those young people in our communities that get engaged and stay engaged,” Bourne said.
Sydney Biondi stated lobbying at this year’s General Assembly legislative session was successful because SGA accomplished everything they were hoping to by speaking directly to elected officials.
“Everyone was kind and supportive and we had super productive conversations that make me hopeful for the future,” Biondi stated.
One of the bills SGA lobbied for is the undergraduate resolution that supports a bill transferring police funds to mental health organizations. Biondi said the measure is a good example of their holistic approach to lobbying.
“I think this stems from the fact that VCU PD [VCU police department] and RPD [Richmond police department] work together and we recognize how that impacts Richmond and VCU students,” Biondi said. “We recognized that we need more funds towards mental health, we needed more funds towards schools.”
Biondi said SGA prefers to operate independently from VCU in order to represent the larger Commonwealth of Virginia and community members that may be “upset and frustrated” at VCU.
“We recognize that we’re more than students and people in Richmond are more than people in Richmond, but we all, as a collective, have needs and wants,” Biondi said. “We want to advocate for everybody.”