At 6 a.m. on Jan. 29, senior Brittany Constance was awake, alert and ready to lead a busload of 35 students for the College of William and Mary’s annual “Road to Richmond” event. With a roster and agenda in hand, she spoke to the gathering of undergraduate students, graduate students and university staff.
"Make sure you mingle with the legislators and engage them," she advised. "Talk about the issues you're passionate about, but also let them know what life is like on campus and why we need their support."
Road to Richmond allows students and university staff to engage delegates and senators directly in discussion, first at a breakfast held at the Library of Virginia, and, later, in their offices. Topics at this year's event included the forthcoming opening of the new School of Education and Business School complexes, a proposed change in the ratio of in-state to out-of-state students in Virginia universities and scholarship funds.
"I look forward to Road to Richmond each year because William & Mary students are wonderful ambassadors and advocates for the College and higher education," said State Sen. Tommy Norment (R-3rd) "It's a great opportunity for all of us in the General Assembly to listen and learn from students that understand the issues and know how to articulate them."
The state of the Commonwealth's budget was highlighted throughout the day, first by President Taylor Reveley in a short address he gave at the breakfast. . In response to the Commonwealth's budget gap, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine announced in December that he would recommend that public universities in Virginia receive a 15 percent reduction in state dollars beginning July 1, 2009. On the capital side, however, recent state budgets have included substantial funding for construction projects such $38 million in last year's budget to fund construction of the future School of Education building.
Reveley noted."This is, as we all know, not a good year for operating budgets, and next year will be truly appalling, but [...] the General Assembly, Governor and the Executive and Legislative branches have done truly spectacular things for education in Virginia on the bricks and mortar front," Reveley said. "William and Mary itself is in what I call its fourth great building boom since 1693, and it has been since the turn of the century. And that building boom is largely funded by money from the state, which we are enormously appreciative of and without which the building boom would not have happened."
Students later had the opportunity to discuss the state budget one-on-one with the legislators in their offices.
Constance, who helped plan this year's lobbying trip, explained that the goal of this Road to Richmond was not necessarily to raise more funds for the university but instead to encourage the maintenance of pre-existing programs. More importantly, many of the students felt that it was an opportunity to give faces to the student body of William & Mary, which is so often represented solely in numbers and figures.
"I think the most important thing for all of us today is make sure that we put a face to the thousands of college students across the state of Virginia, and the 7800 students at William & Mary," said senior Kristin Slawter, vice-president of the Student Assembly. "We want to make sure that they know how what they do here and the legislation they pass daily affects us-not to mention what their dollars go toward and how the lack of their dollars impacts us."
This year's Road to Richmond was remarkable not only because it was attended by roughly the same amount of in-state and out-of-state students from the College, but also because of the high number of freshman who were inspired to make the trip. Not knowing anything about the event beyond what they had been briefly told in meetings and emails, as well as only having a semester of college under their belts, they still felt the need to make the trek to Richmond and represent their school.
"I didn't hear much about the program initially," said Max Meadows, a freshman from upstate New York. "For me, it was more a matter that I'm a freshman here at the College and I'll be here for another three years. Whatever I can do to help the school out and also keep my tuition down is incredibly important to me."