OU student leaders share concerns with U.S. congressional delegation


WASHINGTON – It was 6 p.m. on a Monday, and all alone in the U.S. Capitol rotunda were 11 slack-jawed college students from Oklahoma, marveling at where life had taken them.

Student Government Association leaders from the University of Oklahoma visited  members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation during what they deemed a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Washington. They joined student leaders from other Big 12 Conference schools on Feb. 27-28 to lobby for student-level issues.

“We definitely don’t encompass all student experiences, but we at least encompass some, and just being able to share that with legislators has been really rewarding,” said SGA President Chris Firch.

On the evening of their first full day in town, the Oklahoma students were given an impromptu tour of the Capitol by Sen. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK) after their meeting outside was rained out.

“I loved taking those guys,” Mullin said. “That’s one of the better things about this job.”

It was the students’ first time in the Capitol building, and many had never been to Washington.

“It sounds cheesy, but I never could have imagined we were able to have those opportunities as university students,” said SGA Vice President Emelie Shultz.

Bailey Trautman, vice chairman of the undergraduate student congress, said the trip was an experience she will never get again.

“We just almost couldn’t believe that we were here,” Trautman said. “It was like it was made up or something, like we were in a movie.”

The students spent both days meeting with legislators to push for three key issues—mental health, college affordability and food insecurity—facing college students.

“College affordability, mental health and food insecurity all go hand-in-hand,” Trautman said. “If you don’t have the finances to be able to afford your groceries that can affect your mental health and it’s just one big cycle.”

Firch said when he was campaigning for SGA president he encountered students who struggled with all those issues.

“Even with faculty that have really talked about these issues and want to help students as much as they can, but they just don’t have the funding for it and they don’t have the resources,” Firch said. “So I just think it’s my responsibility to, you know, stand up for OU.”

Francesca Losh, chairman of the Campus Activities Council, said she thinks those issues have been the driving factor in decreased campus participation, especially following the pandemic.

“A lot of students have reported having moderate to severe stress and some of that is kind of due to like college affordability and food scarcity,” Losh said.

Shultz is an international student from Sweden who brings a unique perspective to the table. She said she thinks college affordability is crucial to bringing together students from all walks of life.

“If you take away the possibility of college affordability, you also take away the diversity of students that can attend,” Shutz said. “We all need to promote each other; lift each other up, like together, right? Because that’s what a society is for me.”

OSU students joined OU students in the discussions.

“Nice to see a little Bedlam unity there to be able to talk through issues,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK). “It was great to be able to visit with them.”

The OU students said the conversations went well, and lawmakers were receptive to their concerns.

“I think to hear students talk about a friend, or to talk about a family member, or even themselves regarding these challenges can go such a long way before they may say yes or no to a bill,” Firch said.

Shultz stressed that sharing student voices with legislators is critical.

“It’s so important to highlight the student perspective, but it’s also so important to make sure that the students of OU are heard in these decisions,” Shultz said.

Abby Hasley-Kraus, chairman of the undergraduate student congress, said she was honored to be the bridge between her campus and the federal government.

“It’s incredibly surreal,” Halsey-Kraus said. “It’s an experience that not many students are fortunate enough to have and I feel really grateful to be here on behalf of the student body of OU.”

Trautman said the trip has left a lifelong imprint on her.

“To feel like you can make changes at such a young age is just like really impressionable,” Trautman said. “We all just have this potential to do something and better our world.”


Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.  For more stories by Gaylord News go to GaylordNews.net.