A Student Perspective on ENACT: Taylor Weigel, Drake University, Iowa

Mar 22, 2017

Taylor Weigel (pictured below), a student in ENACT Faculty Fellow Darcie Vandegrift's ENACT course in fall 2016 reflects on the experience.

Taylor Weigel, Drake University class of 2017

Last fall, I participated in the ENACT advocacy project in Dr. Darcie Vandegrift’s Introduction to Race and Ethnic Relations Class. On Monday evenings, state legislators, advocates, attorneys, local stakeholders and other professionals joined students in order to discuss our legislative analysis research projects we worked on throughout the semester.

I was lucky enough to be in this class, and was introduced to citizen advocacy through a bill to repeal the English Language Reaffirmation Act in Iowa. This English Language Reaffirmation Act, more commonly known as the English Only Law, was signed into law in 2002 in Iowa.

Being someone who is more social justice-minded, I did not understand how such a symbolically mean, anti-immigrant law could be passed in a state that was praised for its “Midwestern nice” attitude. Through research, I learned some opposition viewpoints from national groups, but was not able to find many individuals and specific arguments in Iowa against the law. So, even at the end of my research, I struggled to understand why a legislator would be against repealing a law that did not allow them to communicate effectively with all of their constituents (mainly inhibiting communication with non-native English speakers).Taylor Weigel

At the end of the semester, community members came to Drake University and did a round-robin, in essence, as they went table-to-table, meeting with students who presented their bill and fielded questions from the individuals [See photos in slideshow above]. These meaningful conversations helped place students’ research into a realistic context in which they were discussing their bills and research with interested parties, answering and asking questions when necessary.

Meeting locals from the community with firsthand knowledge on legislators’ personal opinions helped me understand why the bill to repeal the English Only Law was shot down in committee in 2015. At the same time, speaking with these individuals convinced me that this bill is worth fighting for, and that I should continue my work with the bill this legislative season.

I met with individuals from the Iowa Commission on Latino Affairs, our local chapter of the Industrial Areas Foundation (AMOS: A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy), The Iowa/Nebraska NAACP lobbying team, and ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) representatives on Monday evenings. These professionals from the Des Moines community provided me with insight I could not find in research. They were blunt. They were honest. They were inquisitive. But most of all, they were supportive.

Yes, I was told by individuals from the community that the bill was unlikely to pass, or even be introduced to the floor, this legislative season. This is because the Iowa legislature is too conservative, and doesn't want to repeal a symbolic bill passed after 9/11 to “enrich the Iowan culture.”

These comments, even though they may seem discouraging, gave me insight into what I needed to focus on in order to make the bill appealing to lawmakers. While they said they thought the bill may not hit the floor, they encouraged me to continue working on it. Individuals from the community helped think of alternative arguments to make it favorable to Republicans, perhaps even granting the bill a place on the floor this legislative season.

One community member that I spoke with suggested looking into economic benefits of the bill – something I had never thought to consider. After looking into it, I realized that Iowa has a declining workforce. As our population ages, we have less and less able-bodied workers to fill labor positions. By releasing government documents in languages other than English, Iowa’s government could attract immigrants, increasing our workforce and helping Iowa’s economy flourish.

Without meeting community members in a relaxed and honest setting, I would not have had this conversation, and would never have considered approaching the bill in this light.

Now, I am more determined than ever to lobby for this bill this legislative season, and to repeal the English Language Reaffirmation Act in Iowa. This would not have been possible without the class, taught by Darcie Vandegrift, and our community interactions with leaders and advocates from around Des Moines.

About ENACT

ENACT: The Educational Network for Active Civic Transformation is a new national program to engage young people in state-level legislative change. Students enrolled in courses taught by ENACT faculty fellows at colleges and universities in or near state capitals around the country are learning how to work with advocacy organizations, legislators and legislative staff members to advance policy. For more information, visit go.brandeis.edu/ENACT.