Students gain experience in government and public policy

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Students gain experience in government and public policy

Students from departments across campus volunteered to run educational booths for children. Photo: Abby Anglea

Ten BJU students will travel to Columbia on Wednesday for the fall session of the South Carolina Student Legislature.

The South Carolina Student Legislature enables college students to learn the process of government and openly discuss public policy issues.

Delegates from colleges and universities across South Carolina form a mock state government—a fully-functioning legislative body complete with a Senate, House of Representatives, Supreme Court and executive officials and staff.

Randy Page, BJU chief of staff and staff adviser for the legislature, said the legislature is a fantastic way to meet peers from other institutions in South Carolina. “It definitely challenges your worldview,” Page said.

Bradley Shepard, a senior university student and governor of the legislature this fall, said he joined the legislature because he wanted a venue to articulate his beliefs outside of the campus population. “[SCSL] is the highlight of my semester here,” Shepard said. Although the atmosphere is very political, BJU strives to maintain an outstanding reputation at this event.

“Whereas some universities tend to try to shove liberal ideology—or even conservative ideology—down people’s throats, . . . [BJU] tries to be very respectful of other beliefs,” Shepard said. “The question I ask myself is, how do Christians insert themselves into that kind of environment in a positive way?”

Victoria Sanders, a senior university student and communications director of the legislature, said it teaches her how to network and communicate. “Not everyone thinks the same way you do,” she said. “I have to learn to figure out common ground and figure out how to get bills passed.”

Page said students have incredible opportunities to build relationships through the SCSL. “[Others] see we’re different,” Page said. He explained that students are able to meet people outside their normal spheres of influence and have conversations about their biblical perspective on life and various issues. Delegates from BJU have written bills on various topics, including topics such as increasing the gas tax, allowing concealed carry guns for teachers after extensive training sessions and improving the foster care system.

Currently, Sanders is working on a bill that would ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be found. Upon first joining student legislature, BJU students are paired up with an experienced delegate so they can get training on how to write their first bill. Sanders said she was thankful for this format. “The first semester I did [SCSL] I was immensely nervous,” Sanders said. “[BJU] does a really good job training new people.”

Students who join the legislation learn to write bills, present them and work with others to get them passed. “Having to argue [your bill] in front of 70 peers in the State House is really intimidating,” Sanders said. “It’s a great way to brush up on your public speaking.” Page emphasized the importance of writing bills well and not taking the easy road. He said if a student picks an easy topic, he instead asks them to choose something more challenging.

“I don’t believe I’ve done my job with delegation members unless I’m really stretching their ability,” he said. “[I] encourage them to think outside the box, to look at innovative options for the problems that face South Carolina.” While it is a mock debate and the bills the students pass are not real, the bill books are presented to some members of the actual legislature and to the governor.

“South Carolina, as great a state as it is, has some real problems to overcome,” Page said. “[Our delegation members] are looking for bill ideas, reading the papers and seeing what issues there are.” One year, a bill students passed in SCSL actually became law in South Carolina. Linda Abrams, former BJU adviser for SCSL, said that South Carolina’s tax-free weekend in August for back-to-school shopping originated from the legislature.

South Carolina’s current governor, Henry McMaster, was at one time a student legislator. This year, McMaster will be addressing the students. “We’re really psyched about it,” Shepard said. Looking into the future, Shepard said he is most looking forward to supporting a friend of his from Charleston as she runs for governor.

He said if she wins the position, she will be only the fifth woman to be the governor of the SCSL in over 60 years. Shepard is excited for this chance to change the current pattern. “I believe the best person for the job should get the job, and I know [my friend] is that person,” Shepard said. “She is brilliant, she is passionate and she knows the constitution better than anyone. I am going to throw my full support behind her for governor.”

Additionally, BJU will be hosting its very first student legislature workshop for the entire Upstate of South Carolina on Nov. 3 from 1 to 6 p.m. Fifteen colleges that are not a part of the South Carolina Student Legislature have been invited for a mock student legislature on campus. Shepard said the goal of this workshop is to show other collegs what SCSL is like and to convince them to join the legislature. The spring session for SCSL is typically held in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.