During a recent virtual meeting with staff members from the office of US Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), students from St. John’s University advocated that Congress provide billions of dollars in its international response to COVID-19.
The visit with Yazeed Abdelhaq, Senator Schumer’s Legislative Correspondent, capped a two-day, national effort that Catholic Relief Services (CRS) organized this summer to train college students and faculty on effectively advocating members of Congress to support $12 billion in its next supplemental package to overseas nations. Many of these areas have poor and vulnerable populations that are being devastated by the pandemic.
Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. They work to assist the poor while responding to major emergencies, fighting disease, and nurturing peaceful and just societies around the world. CRS served more than 159 million people in 114 countries in 2019.
The event, “CRS Virtual Voices 2020: Encuentro y Acción,” was an opportunity for participants to encounter global voices from CRS’s work and learn about impactful techniques and strategies to build relationships with policymakers. CRS assisted in coordinating the three-hour virtual visits, and St. John’s faculty members were present to observe and encourage the students. St. John’s CRS Global Campus Committee, composed of faculty, administrators, and CRS student ambassadors, coordinated the University’s participation.
“The training allowed me to gain insight on how to be a better advocate and work as a team leader. I learned so much about how my voice can be heard,” said Kerlin Morales, a senior Psychology major with a minor in Sociology in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Kerlin represented St. John’s at the meeting with Mr. Abdelhaq, along with fellow ambassador Grace Musser, a junior at St. John’s College with a double major in Anthropology and Global Development and Sustainability, as well as a minor in Spanish. The CRS student ambassadors program prepares undergraduates at St. John’s to address global poverty and injustice. The University was designated a CRS Global Campus in 2016.
Basilio G. Monteiro, Ph.D., Chair of the Division of Mass Communication in The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies and Director of the Institute for International Communication, also attended the virtual congressional meeting. “This particular experience reinforced that it is important to teach students the process of governance and how public policies are shaped, and how thoughtful individual citizens ought to be engaged in order to support the greater good,” he said. “Students had the opportunity to articulate their arguments and to understand the purpose of lobbying the legislators.”
Meghan J. Clark, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Moral Theology, Department of Theology and Religious Studies, and Senior Fellow and Co-Chair of St. John’s CRS Global Campus Committee, joined the students as they participated in the advocacy training portion of the event. “As a faculty member, part of my role is to accompany and assist my students in developing their own voice and advocacy in a global society,” she explained. “I cannot do that unless I connect myself to advocacy, as well.”
“Partnering with CRS and including global concerns in our advocacy training,” she added, “is one concrete way for those of us in the St. John’s community to educate and empower ourselves and our students to see acting for social justice during a pandemic at home and abroad as necessarily a ‘both/and’ proposition.”