OU students will work toward impacting Oklahoma policy (OU Daily)

By Jessica James

A new student organization is empowering college students to make the changes they want to see in their communities by teaching them how to conduct policy research and possibly write legislation.

The Roosevelt Institute is a national, nonpartisan think tank with branches on campuses across the country, said political science sophomore Courtland Vogeding, president of the new OU branch. She said the purpose of the institution is to outfit students with the tools they need to make their voices matter in policy-making.

“We’re dedicated to increasing access to pluralistic institutions for students — more ways, basically, for students to access government,” Vogeding said. Pluralism, she explained, is the idea that there are many access points to government that make an individual’s voice matter.

Vogeding said the club will teach students how to craft policies that make positive changes in their communities. She said the process has several stages: reviewing existing literature, deciding the research focus, field research, writing legislation and lobbying. The Oklahoma Policy Institute and other experts will be brought in to train members, she said.

Before this begins, however, the club has to decide on a topic.

Pam Ortega, a journalism and political science junior, said the club is considering two topics: women’s incarceration and Syrian refugee resettlement. She personally prefers the first.

“I think the incarceration topic is more likely to have a direct impact with our community, and I think that’s essentially what we’re trying to get at,” she said.

Vogeding said both topics are important, especially since Oklahoma has the world’s highest female incarceration rate, but that the Syrian refugee topic is especially relevant right now. The focus of that topic, she said, would be how the resettlement process works in Oklahoma and how the state can make it easier for the people getting here.

Because both topics are contentious issues, Vogeding said the club is doing its best to remain nonpartisan by having a Democrat, a Republican and an independent on its executive board.


“You can’t go to Oklahoma with a liberal bill just because your policy institute thinks it’s right,” she said. “It’s not going to pass in Oklahoma, so you have to look at things from different perspectives.”

Ortega said deciding on a topic, training and researching would be the club’s focus this semester. Then, they will begin their search for a sponsor in the fall so that any bill they write can be introduced in the 2017 legislative session.

Ortega said this ability to develop policy that could actually become law is a large part of why she joined the Roosevelt Institute.

“As college students, we can be a part of (government) and we can start creating policy without having to be an elected official,” she said, adding that no background or previous experience in policy research is necessary to join.

Faculty adviser Joy Pendley said the skills students will learn through the Roosevelt Institute will be useful for any major.

“As they are working in their major, they’re beginning to see some of the policy implications of issues within their field, so joining the Roosevelt Institute gives them that inside knowledge,” Pendley said. “I don’t think there is a career that wouldn’t be helped by this kind of experience.”


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