Every year, a group of students heads to the State Capitol armed with new knowledge about the legislative project, passionate about a cause, and ready for real-world experience with social justice. Last year's project was geared toward emancipating foster youth in the transition from the child welfare system; this year's focused on forgotten veterans.
At the head of this project is social work professor Fiona Bullock, who asks students in her Social Welfare Policy and Contemporary Social Issues class to work on a legislative project focusing on individuals, families, groups, or communities in need. She has them learn about the legislative process a bill passes through in order to present an educational meeting on campus, become familiar with a specific current bill, and take on a worthy causes so they can get first-hand experience with social justice.
"It shows the class (and other students from the department) how accessible government is to them and that apathy is NOT acceptable," Bullock says. She also finds that it gives the students a chance to make valuable community connections, "to network with other community agencies and consumers impacted by the legislation and to partnership for change."
This year's project was inspired when two Patriot Guard Riders came to Bullock's class on Death and Dying and spoke about the Missing in America Project (MIAP). MIAP locates unclaimed cremated remains of veterans for proper military burial with full military honors, and Patriot Guard Riders is a group of motorcycle riders and others that support veterans by attending funerals. One of them asked the class, "What would it take for college students to get involved in this project?" Bullock decided to take on that question. "That was enough for me to research the subject for current legislation, and off we went from there," she says.
Students started becoming familiar with legislative project and with Assembly Bill 1644 specifically, a current bill proposing to simplify the effort to locate, identify, and honorably inter the remains of forgotten veterans. They presented an educational meeting and organized student participation and educational materials for a rally in Sacramento, Calif. In Igo, Calif., the students attended the funeral of three MIAP veterans, representing the families of those unclaimed veterans. "Being able to attend the funerals in Igo was humbling and the students were impressed by the warmth of the veterans," says Bullock. "We are going to take the flags presented to us on behalf of the MIAP veterans and hang them in a place of honor in the department."
The students also attended the Sacramento rally and organized a student, faculty, and veteran post-rally party. "Every year is great, but I have to say, this was pretty special," Bullock says. Student Becky Broeckel, a member of the class who got involved by designing buttons and a poster and photographing the events, found that it had everything to do with community. "I want to advocate for veterans and the AB 1644 is a way to promote community and support," she says. "The veterans that escort newly discharged veterans and attend funerals get fellowship and understanding from each other and from being involved in these programs. I feel like it is worth supporting."
Broeckel and Bullock both have additional interest in this project, too. "The issue was close to my heart because my brother joined the Navy last year and is now in training to become an officer," Broeckel says. And Bullock counsels veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder in Sacramento and helped found the PUC Veterans Club this year. "I think veteran issues are sorely overlooked," she says. "I wanted to raise awareness with our students about the sacrifices some soldiers and their families are making for us. Particularly as many of them are the same age as our students."