Bellevue College’s Office of Student Legislative Affairs annually holds an on-campus forum towards the end of the school year to give BC’s student community insight to new legislation that will affect the academic environment. Titled “Forum for All,” this event gives OSLA members the opportunity to explain new bills that have passed, some of which they have worked on. Led by OSLA’s Policy Coordinator Hyemin Son, the forum also included an interactive session which encouraged attendees to share their thoughts on some of OSLA’s school agenda as well as on the bills that have passed.
Established in 2007, OSLA is a student program at BC that focuses on understanding student issues exclusive to the BC campus, while connecting those to larger discussions occurring with similar groups in college campuses around Washington. At the start of each school year, OSLA conducts student surveys that detail prominent obstacles that many students experience. This survey allows OSLA to compile a list of the most important student issues to possibly prepare legislation that can be presented at Olympia. In addition, they also prepare two additional agendas, one for the city and another for the county.
“This group is to promote democracy on campus,” said Son. “We have to make sure we have enough discussions with students so we can represent the student voice in a close way.”
This year, the OSLA has identified six issues that the BC community resonates with: College affordability, textbook prices and open educational resources, sexual violence resources, disability access and equity, using electronic benefits transfer cards for campus foods and providing education in correctional facilities. The forum highlighted a few bills that have passed which focus on those issues.
OSLA’s Washington State Liaison Jessica Bagdasarov discussed legislation that correlated with BC’s legislative agenda. SB 5069 is a bill that increases access to education to inmates and specifically aims to provide an associate’s degree education to incarcerated individuals.
“This is one of our big successes because this is one of the bills that we’ve worked on for about four to five years,” said Bagdasarov. “This helps specifically prisoners who are going to be released within two to five years. This is great for our inmates once they’re out of prison. It reduces recidivism highly.”
SB 5764 is another bill that has passed, which improves resources for sexual violence victims. “The bill works with maintaining confidentiality between victims and their advocates on campus,” said Bagdasarov. “Students who go to a counselor on school don’t really want to do much further with their case. This bill allows safety between victim and their advocates.”
HB 2037 was also explained, which improves educational access to students with disabilities. Through this bill, a work group will form to identify specific barriers in the transfer process that students with disabilities experience. In addition, the work group will help students overcome these issues. According to the bill, “the work group recognized that improving services to students with disabilities is an ongoing and evolving process that warrants the continued attention of stakeholders.”
HB 2037, SB 5069 and SB 5764 will all become effective on July 23, 2017.
Aliye Volkan is OSLA’s county liaison, who presented on issues and legislation regarding undocumented students. “There was a guidance prepared by WA state and basically, King County passed this guidance and they’re going to use it,” said Volkan.
The guidance ensures information protection for undocumented students from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. “They can’t just come and interview students or request information unless they have an attorney signature,” explained Volkan.
“Students don’t have to share if they’re undocumented or not. For example, if they’re qualified for in-state tuition, they don’t have to specify that they are undocumented or anyone in their family is undocumented.”
Other advancements that were discussed included Sound Transit’s light rail expansion to Bellevue. “Link SR-520 will concern expanding the length, so it will come to Bellevue and connect with Eastgate,” said Volkna, “This is a 25-year program so it’ll take some time to come here.”
Although the bills that were discussed did address the OSLA’s agenda, Son believes that there is more work to be done. “There was a hate crime recently through hate posters that was very controversial. I don’t think we have enough discussion regarding protection for undocumented students or Muslim students,” said Son. “I think we need to have more progress on that.” Son’s vision for BC is for the campus to become a sanctuary for students.
“Western Washington University is working on making their campus a sanctuary. I think that’s a very good thing because the students don’t have to be scared,” noted Son.
As this is Son’s last year at BC, she hopes more students will be involved in their local government. “Being involved in politics is similar to volunteerism. My engagement can benefit other people and myself,” stated Son.