Lobbying for change: Brandeis students take action in advocacy course

Dalia and Arianna
Dalia Moran ’24 and Arianna Jackson ’25 were paired to lobby for Bill H.2209/S.1457, an Act promoting access to midwifery care and out-of-hospital birth options.

Photo Credit: Gaelen Morse

By Kennedy Ryan
February 26, 2024

Each spring, Brandeis students vie for a spot in Advocacy for Policy Change, a course that gives them the opportunity to lobby for the passage of a bill at the Massachusetts State House. 

The course, taught by professor Melissa Stimell, is a part of ENACT: The Educational Network for Active Civic Transformation, a national, nonpartisan program engaging undergraduates at colleges and universities in state-level legislative change by working with legislators, staffers, and community organizers to advance policy.

“Students leave this course with the confidence in being informed citizens,” said Stimell. “They get to the point where they can talk to a legislator and feel comfortable having those conversations.” 

After starting the semester with a survey regarding their passions and interests, students are paired into teams and assigned a bill that’s currently being lobbied before the State House. 

Arianna Jackson ’25, an environmental studies major, chose to take the course because of her interest in future policy work. Dalia Moran ’24, a Health, Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP) major, joined the class because of her desire to make systematic change in the health-care industry. The two were paired to lobby for Bill H.2209/S.1457, an Act promoting access to midwifery care and out-of-hospital birth options.

“Black women's health and maternal needs are a huge area of interest for me,” said Jackson. “It's hard to find people who are already passionate about these issues. It’s been really exciting sharing this project with Dalia.”

Throughout the semester, students learn the ins and outs of legislative advocacy, developing a storybook of interviews, creating a media campaign, and pitching their bill to other members of the class. Student teams are then paired with a legislative mentor and/or a member of an advocacy organization, and strive to progress their bill.

“I want to be a voice for the people in my community.”

Dalia Moran ’24

The students also have an opportunity to discuss their bill with their mentor at the Massachusetts State House.

Jackson and Moran were paired with Sen. Becca Rausch ’01, who represents Norfolk, Bristol and Middlesex districts. A Brandeis alumna, she is the third woman, the second Democrat, and the first Jewish person to hold her seat. 

Rausch, Rep. Kay Khan, and other involved legislators met with Jackson and Moran to discuss their paths into policy and their personal reasons for advocating for this bill.

“Speaking with Sen. Rausch makes me hopeful for my future career and the future of politics,” said Jackson. “Hearing her experiences makes me think about how I can make my own path. It just feels like I can see what I'm capable of doing.”

Rausch also led an advice session with senators and representatives. The students left with additional information about their bills and the encouragement to pursue a career in advocacy work. 

“It continues to be both a pleasure and true privilege to collaborate with this program every year and engage with each cohort on the multitude of issues that are important to them,” said Rausch. “ENACT, Dr. Stimell, and her students continue to be a credit to my alma mater.”

While this semester’s course is only in its first month, the students have already been impacted. Moran is now considering pursuing law school upon graduation. 

“I want to be a voice for the people in my community. This is the first time that I've been given the chance to do work that will actually make a change in my community,” said Moran. 

“Professor Stimell says everyone leaves the class a more confident and informed person from when they started. I’m really excited about that.”