For three days each fall, the South Carolina State House experiences a flurry of activity as representatives discuss issues and vote on bills. None of the representatives, however, are elected. They are all students.
The South Carolina Student Legislature is a student-run organization focused on providing students an outlet to learn about government and debate public policy issues. The SCSL closely models itself after the proceedings of the South Carolina General Assembly.
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the SCSL conducted its 2020 session virtually. Normally, however, the SCSL lobbies the General Assembly to pass a resolution allowing the SCSL to use the State House for a weekend.
Students from up to 16 colleges and universities then fill the House of Representatives, Senate, Supreme Court and governor’s office buildings in the state capital in Columbia. Bills written by the students move through committees and onto a docket, where a mock House of Representatives or Senate votes on each. Student leaders send passing bills to the other chamber.
The student-appointed governor forwards the passing bills to the bona fide State Governor of South Carolina, who can work to implement them. South Carolina implemented its August tax-free shopping weekend after a BJU student’s bill was passed proposing the idea.
BJU’s 2020 delegation consisted of 11 students and was designated the “Best Medium Delegation.” Each student submitted a bill to the legislature and all 11 bills written by BJU students passed.
“It’s pretty surreal, because we were just sitting, like, where the actual house and actual senate actually sit and do what they’re supposed to do,” said Aryn Akerburg, a senior health science major on BJU’s team. The SCSL also opened the opportunity for Akerberg to work an internship with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott. Unfortunately, the internship was canceled due to COVID-19. Akerberg also worked for Sen. Lindsey Graham’s campaign.
Serving in the SCSL opens up many unique opportunities for students. “First and foremost, our priority at South Carolina Student Legislature . . . is to be good testimony,” Akerberg said. “The part that makes you the most successful [in] student legislature is caring and really being passionate about helping your community.”
“Relationships and being able to effectively communicate a biblical worldview, I think is probably some of the best parts of what they do,” said BJU chief of staff Randy Page. Page, who has served in state politics for around two decades and facilitates the BJU SCSL delegation. “There’s another Christian college in the state where the chair came and talked to me and said, ‘It’s just amazing to me how different your students are. I would love to have that kind of unity in our delegation,’” Page said.
“I would say probably student legislature is the most valuable experience I’ve gotten at the university,” said Judah Smith, a senior pre-med major and current BJU men’s student body president, “and I don’t say that lightly,” Smith said he has run for several offices, which was challenging yet fun.
BJU’s delegation includes a diverse set of students majoring in premed, business, accounting, social studies, journalism, health science and English education. “We’re open to anyone,” Smith said.
Reagan Musselman, a junior premed major who was elected lieutenant governor during the 2020 session, said the SCSL enabled him to grow his public speaking confidence. “I think presenting my bill for the first time was like nerve-wracking,” Musselman said. Because of connections he made in the SCSL, Musselman was able to become involved in Patrick Haddon’s campaign for the South Carolina House of Representatives.
The BJU Student Legislature holds an informational meeting in January during which it passes out applications. Applicants complete essays, and the top 15-20 applicants are offered an interview, of whom three to four students are invited to join the delegation each year.