The JMU Student Government Association (SGA) took a trip to Richmond, Virginia, to advocate for three pertinent categories of student interest with state legislators, including students’ well-being, campus safety and access and affordability during its biannual advocacy trip Feb. 8. Through months of time and effort, senior Grace Smith, SGA’s legislative affairs chair, said SGA was able to give campus context through JMU with over 50 legislators and speak from personal experiences.
According to its mission statement, the SGA speaks on behalf of the student body and listens to their wants and needs with the goal of progressing student life on and off campus.
During last year’s trip, members spoke to legislators about gaining mental health funding and were successful in their mission. Smith said a result of this funding was the implementation of TimelyCare.
“Specifically with mental health since [COVID-19], we have been struggling, and having upperclassmen who are willing to represent the student body are critical”, said freshman Reagan Polarek, class of 2026 president.
TimelyCare is a telehealth service that allows for 12 annual counseling sessions, as well as 24/7 unlimited access available for all students. Last year, SGA also advocated for funding for more counseling positions at the JMU Counseling Center. However, Smith said the university is having trouble filling these positions.
During SGA’s trip to Richmond last month, Smith said, members met with over 50 different legislators: the most SGA’s ever met with in one day, Polarek said. This was also the first time SGA had been introduced on the House floor at the Virginia State Capitol, where it discussed several bills including the threat assessment and human trafficking bills. Sophomore Matthew Petrie, an SGA representative, said while some bills didn’t make it past the committee at some point in the legislative process, others were more successful.
SGA made progress with some bills that have great interest and prominence in light of recent tragedy, including a threat assessment bill. Junior Marcus Rand, SGA’s sergeant-at-arms, said the threat assessment bill came after the mass shooting at the University of Virginia (U.Va.) in November 2022. This bill, passed by the legislature, gives threat assessment teams on university campuses in Virginia the power to obtain criminal records of an individual posing a threat to the campus and review their history.
A human trafficking bill, which requires all first-year students at higher education institutions in Virginia to complete a human trafficking awareness and prevention program, was also passed. Petrie said these bills are both leading student interest bills that address campus safety needs.
According to the Virginia Legislative Information System, Both bills are waiting on approval from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) to be fully passed and put into action. Youngkin must approve or reject the bills by March 27.
SGA will be going on another trip next month on April 3-4, this time visiting Washington, D.C. Smith said SGA will be going over the same legislative priorities of students’ well-being, campus safety and access and affordability, as well as examining and furthering SGA’s research on their current bills in progress.
“We plan to work on foundations that we have already started to build and continue advocating for more mental health resources,” Smith said.
Members of SGA said the future of SGA is auspicious and that they're looking toward increased contact with legislators and government officials to continue creating ties and advocating for the wants and needs of JMU students.