Optimizing students’ political clout can have big impacts in state policy

Laura Hallas

With the passage of the campus carry law SB 11, students are realizing that state legislation can hit close to home, and in this case, their classrooms. It is important, because of laws like this one, that students know how to organize opinions and maximize their political impact.

College students are an influential voting bloc who must learn to exert their political influence on the state level, especially when they feel that their views are not being acted upon.

Historically speaking, college students are a very influential political demographic. They were the driving force behind much of the political change of the 1960s, such as expanding free speech, enacting civil rights reform and lowering the voting age.

There is a good reason for this. Students learn and form opinions about the most recent research and academic viewpoints, and politicians respect the perspective this brings. Kathleen Knocke, Plan II and health and society senior, experienced this firsthand at the Texas Capitol when interning with Plan II’s Health and Social Policy Internship Program. She said while politicians are experienced, they don’t know everything.

“[Students] are surrounded by so many different diverse people,” Knocke said. “I think that as you get older you are further and further away from that kind of environment, and it’s super advantageous, especially concerning politics.”

Students are constituents as well, and now is the ideal time to approach your representative with opinions. Texas Legislature meets biennially, and is currently in interim. When in interim, representatives from the House return home to get feedback from their constituents and Senate committees can conduct in-depth studies of issues.

Government senior Bird Holmequist, a former intern at the Texas Capitol, said she noticed how seriously representatives take the concerns of their constituents.

“You just don’t really think about your state representative that much, so when they do have support they listen to it,” Holmequist said. “That is a voter, that is someone who cares what they’re doing, and somebody who wants you to get something done for them.”

There are several ways to make student opinions effective beyond public rallies and protests. According to Holmequist, the most effective strategy is to return to your home district to discuss issues with a local representative. Student interests usually err on the side of liberal, but Republican representatives hold the majority in the House and Senate. Voices that are spread out geographically among different Republican representatives have more clout than having many voices behind just one, more liberal Austin representative. Representatives are also more likely to take on a cause if it is well organized and has the support of their colleagues.

Political opinions are everywhere on college campuses, but if students truly want to use their influence and enact change, they need to know how the Texas legislature operates and use the system to their advantage.

Hallas is a Plan II and human development freshman from Allen. Follow her on Twitter @LauraHallas.