One of the hallmarks of an Ohio Dominican University education is that students are equipped with resources, experiences and knowledge they can use to pursue their individual passions in a way that makes the world a better place. As it turns out, this includes advocating for changes at the highest levels of state government.

Taught by longtime Sociology Professor Dr. Julie Hart during the fall 2022 semester, students in ODU’s Nonviolent Social Change: Citizen Advocacy for Justice and the Common Good course were challenged to advocate for current proposed Ohio legislation on various common good issues. For example, students advocated for bills identifying racism as a public health crisis, and making changes to the formula that determines funding for Ohio’s public schools to make it more fair.

"This is an unusual course as it is formed around a major real world project involving advocacy for Ohio legislation regarding either an Ohio House or Senate bill currently under consideration,” Hart said. “These bills have a direct impact on the common good, which is a key component of ODU’s Core Curriculum.”

Sociology major Stephen Cottrill chose to advocate for Senate Bill 198, which would eliminate the statute of limitations when it comes to allegations of rape.

“We chose the bill because it’s both been an issue that’s a little close to our hearts and it’s impacted our lives,” Cottrill said. “We’re not taking the issue of rape and sexual assault seriously in our society and this bill is part of incremental changes to make it so our society views it as something we need to take seriously.”

Students spent the fall semester developing a comprehensive argument to present to lawmakers on their chosen bills. They researched strengths and weaknesses of the bills, identified potential constituents and opponents of the legislation, wrote news releases announcing their advocacy campaign, held petition drives to collect signatures, wrote letters to the editor to local media, and conducted personal outreach to legislators who serve on committees hearing the bills.

"They learned to write a strategic plan to pass their bill by Dec. 31, 2022 in the current General Assembly by studying the legislative process,” Hart said. “In the process of doing so, they also prepared to advocate in-person with the senator or representative who is chair of the legislative committee where the bill is being considered.”

Those in-person meetings are now complete. Hart and students including Cottrill recently made the 10-minute trip from Ohio Dominican University’s campus to the Ohio Statehouse to discuss their case to legislative leaders and hand-deliver their petitions, each containing more than 250 signatures.

Cottrill met with legislative aides from the office State Senator Nathan Manning, who serves as chair of the Judiciary Committee.

“It was just really valuable to learn more about the process, how the Statehouse works, and have people who are receptive talking to you, and who respect and value what you have to say,” Cottrill said.

“It is a daunting task, but we spent significant time rehearsing and improving the speeches using role plays, focus groups and even visiting with ODU President Connie Gallaher to practice speaking to an important public official,” Hart said. “The amount of work put forth by the students is evident as they are able to clearly, concisely and compellingly discuss their chosen bill. I’m proud of how hard the groups worked, and the spirit of collaboration they’ve shown throughout the course.”

While there’s no guarantee this advocacy and petitions will lead to actual changes to state law, Dr. Hart says that isn’t the only point of the course.

“In the end, students are equipped with real life skills for promoting the common good of all people in their communities, and that is what Ohio Dominican’s Core Curriculum is all about.”

“From my position, it seems like there’s a lot of doom and gloom, and a lot of feeling like if you’re not exceptional or you’re not involved in something super big, then what’s the point? You can’t really do much,” Cottrill said. “By doing projects like these, you see there is an impact that you can have and you get to know what it’s like to do that. I think it’s empowering, and it opens up your eyes to all the ways that you can have that impact.”