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Coalition of Florida university students mark historic occasion in U.S. Capitol

Coalition of Florida university students mark historic occasion in U.S. Capitol

July 27, 2022 at 4:33pm

By Eric Feldman

On July 13, Mary McLeod Bethune became the first Black American to be featured in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, representing Florida. On the day of the unveiling, FIU students alongside students from Bethune-Cookman University, Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University and the University of Florida had the opportunity to see the statue in person as part of the Statewide Summit on Equity in Education hosted at FIU in DC.

“Mary McLeod Bethune was the embodiment of strength, determination and fighting for what you believe in, while making relationships along the way,” Rhobie Toussaint, a rising junior at FIU, said. “It became clear to me that I too want to embody these qualities as a leader.”

The first day provided the opportunity to experience the historic day including a tour of the Capitol building provided by Reps. Byron Donalds (FL-19) and Frederica Wilson (FL-24), as well as attending the U.S. Capitol Historical Society’s symposium on Bethune’s life, where Reps. James Clyburn (SC-6) and Kathy Castor (FL-14), among other speakers, honored her legacy, which included Bethune founding the National Council of Negro Women serving as president of the National Association for Colored Women among other organizations, and as an advisor to President Franklin Roosevelt. 

Day two of the summit led students through discussions of educational policy and workshops on how to effectively communicate policy issues. Panelists included National Association of Broadcasters Vice President for Government Relations and FIU College of Law Alumna Charlyn Stanberry; FAMU Director of Government Relations Danielle McBeth; Vice President of Higher Education Policy for the Education Trust Wil Del Pilaras; and lobbyists from various technology companies and firms representing educational systems.

“Dr. Bethune’s legacy as a civil rights leader has a strong emphasis on education,” said Eric Feldman, associate director of FIU in DC. “The most fitting way to honor it was to convene students from across the state including the university that she founded, to step into their own role as student advocates for education.”

Finally, the summit concluded with a “policy hack” session, where students created policy goals and presentations on a local, statewide and federal level to increase equity in education and facilitate access to higher education and opportunity for students of lower-income and/or underrepresented communities.

“The policy hack was especially powerful because we got to use our creativity to propose solutions for issues people face in our communities,” Toussaint said.

Now that the summit has concluded, the universities and their student leaders will continue to collaborate including hosting events on the respective campuses about careers in public service and supporting policy proposals through the Florida Student Association.

FIU in Washington, D.C., which is opening a bold, new location this Fall, is an integrated advocacy approach aimed at increasing FIU’s national reputation and federal support for FIU’s preeminent and emerging preeminent programs, faculty and students. The FIU in DC team collaborates with academic units to provide learning experiences and support the placement of students and alumni in internships and permanent employment. For more information on becoming a Washington, D.C. intern, email Eric Feldman at