Carnegie Mellon University
Civic Engagement

The GSA organizes, funds, and supports a wide variety of civic engagement activities under the direction of the VP of External Affairs. Please see below for more information and email <gsa-vpea@andrew.cmu.edu> with any questions.

The Carnegie Mellon University Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) encourages students to engage in political advocacy. As an organization, GSA benefits from its non-profit status and its relationship with the Carnegie Mellon University Student Government. As such, the usage of Student Activities Fee money by the GSA is subject to certain legal regulations as well as the Student Government Fiscal Policy, and this affects the types of political advocacy for which GSA can provide monetary support.

Below is a guide to determine whether GSA can support a political advocacy event, and what kind of support may be provided. Please note that the determination of whether an event is non-partisan and/or relevant to graduate student interests will be made by the GSA Executive Committee on a case-by-case basis. In general, the GSA will not sponsor political events (i.e. direct campaign activities) and will seek balanced, policy oriented events and speakers.

  1. If the event is in support of an item on the GSA Legislative Platform and/or NAGPS Legislative Platform, GSA may provide both monetary and organizational support.
  2. If the event is not covered by the Legislative Platform, but is both non-partisan and relevant to graduate student interests, GSA may still provide both monetary and organizational support. It is recommended that the topic covered by the event be presented to the GSA External Affairs Committee to see if it qualifies for addition to the GSA Legislative Platform.
  3. If the event is relevant to graduate student interests but is viewed by the Executive Committee as partisan, GSA may not provide monetary support but may provide organizational support, at the discretion of the GSA Executive Board.
  4. If the event is viewed by the Executive Committee as partisan and not relevant to graduate student interests, GSA may not provide direct support.

History

For the past several years, the External Affairs committee of the Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) has used the legislative platform of the National Association of Graduate-Professional Students (NAGPS), to which CMU GSA has signed on. This platform is fairly comprehensive at the federal level and legitimized by the fact that member schools of NAGPS have signed on to it. GSA has seen growing  interest from CMU graduate students to engage in advocacy at other levels of government, both out of general interest and out of a feeling that change is more easily achieved at lower levels.

Purpose

A legislative platform crystallizes the values of an organization into concrete advocacy goals. It signals to the rest of the world where we stand on a variety of topics, and provides institutional memory about our advocacy work. The goal of this platform is to help GSA:

  1. Formalize GSA’s position on topics at the local, state, and federal level.
  2. Empower the External Affairs committee to advocate on behalf of all of GSA.
  3. Create a lasting tradition of advocacy that goes beyond our existing federal advocacy work performed under the auspices of NAGPS’ legislative platform.

Maintenance

The VP of External Affairs, together with the External Affairs committee, is charged with:

  1. Maintaining the legislative platform by proposing amendments to it as necessary.
  2. Supporting the platform with research and advocacy efforts.

Any member of GSA is free to propose amendments to the platform as desired. Amendments can be proposed and voted upon in the monthly GSA general body meeting with a simple majority needed to pass an amendment. This is the standard procedure for any GSA legislation according to our bylaws.

Ideally, if a student wants the External Affairs committee to take up an issue, they would:

  1. Come to an EA committee meeting to discuss the issue
  2. Together with other interested parties, fill out this basic research form. It should take a couple hours of research and maybe a few emails.
  3. Return to an EA committee meeting and share the results. We can then start crafting the language as a group.
  4. If the student is a rep, they can propose legislation themselves. If not, a rep on the EA committee can do it for them.

Platform Language

GSA supports city sponsored infrastructure and regulations that improve safety conditions for bikers in the city of Pittsburgh.

GSA supports improved and alternative methods of recourse for students against maltreatment by landlords.

GSA urges the city of Pittsburgh to uphold the Fourth Amendment rights of immigrants within its borders to the extent to which it is able, i.e. to become a “Sanctuary” city.

GSA strongly opposes any measure that would withhold federal or state funding from Fourth Amendment or “Sanctuary” cities.

GSA supports the right of graduate student employees to unionize.

GSA urges the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to comply with the REAL ID Act by the June 2017 deadline.

GSA supports access to affordable and comprehensive health care for all graduate students and their dependents, including international students.

GSA supports extending the federal privacy protections for student treatment records at post-secondary institutions. Student treatment records should not be disclosed to any party not directly involved in the treatment of the student without the student's consent, regardless of whether any previous disclosure has occurred.

GSA strongly supports measures that will facilitate domestic revalidation of F-type visas.

GSA urges lawmakers and executive departments to streamline the F-type visa revalidation process by mandating deadlines within which the process is completed.

GSA supports measures that will provide equal opportunities to students to apply for different  fellowship programs, irrespective of their country of origin.

GSA supports the reinstatement of subsidized Stafford loans for graduate students.

GSA urges the U.S. Department of Education to reunify the undergraduate and graduate student loan interest rates.

GSA strongly supports federal measures that incentivize Open Access publishing of research.

GSA strongly opposes cuts to federal funding for research. Furthermore, GSA supports the funding of graduate study for all fields, not just STEM fields.

GSA strongly opposes blanket bans on international student entry based on their country of origin, religion, and/or field of study. 

So you are concerned about a political issue. What can you do?

First, you need to determine the following basic information:

  1. Who in government can affect this issue? Potential answers include:
    1. Congress
    2. An executive department (e.g., Department of Education)
    3. PA State Legislature
    4. PA Governer
    5. Pittsburgh Mayor
    6. Pittsburgh City Council
  2. What is the action you want them to take? For example:
    1. Sponsor, co-sponsor, vote for, or block a bill
    2. Repeal or create a new rule
    3. Veto or sign an upcoming bill
  3. Can GSA help with my issue?
    1. GSA is subject to University regulations regarding partisanship and political activities. In practice, GSA advocates for issues that are bipartisan and affect graduate students directly. A partial list of our issues of interest can be found here. Even if your issue is not on that list, the GSA may be able to help you advocate for this issue, and you can email gsa-vpea@andrew.cmu.edu to discuss.
    2. Even if the GSA cannot directly help with organizing, you may be able to apply for funding and/or have your event advertised by us, subject to the discretion of the GSA executive board and University Policy. See relevant sections below

This information can help you determine which section of this guide to use:

  1. How to organize a call-a-thon
  2. How to organize an office visit
  3. How to give your opinion to executive offices about new rules
  4. How to organize a group trip to a march/protest/rally
  5. How to organize a voter registration drive

Here is some basic information about hosting events:

  1. Potential funding sources and how to apply for them
  2. How to reserve space on campus
  3. Advertising methods available

Here is a list of potential resources to help you best tackle your issue of interest. Please note that the following links are not affiliated with Carnegie Mellon University in any way and we cannot guarantee their accuracy. Inclusion of a source on this list is not an endorsement by the GSA or by CMU. If you have a resource you feel should be added, contact gsa-vpea@andrew.cmu.edu

General information about laws in the US:

  1. How do I keep track of new legislation?
  2. What is a “notice and comment” period?
  3. What is an executive order?
  4. How does a bill become law?
  5. Who represents me?

Effective advocacy:

  1. Examples of how targeted advocacy can work, even just with individuals
  2. Are politicians obligated to listen to me?
  3. Best Practices for Appealing to Congresspeople
  4. ACLU Presentation on Effective Advocacy from 2/23/17

Opportunities in Pittsburgh:

  1. Pittsburgh Area Organizations for Social Justice
  2. Volunteering Opportunities in the City of Pittsburgh
  3. Mobilize Pittsburgh Calendar

Carnegie Mellon University has a civic engagement office, PACE, that you can use to find additional resources.

If you are an international student and you are not sure what kind of political engagement is safe for you, please contact OIE.