AWM Capitol Hill Visit at JMM 2019

Group in front of statue on visit.

The AWM group in front of the Alexander Calder statue in the Hays Building in Washington DC.

Tuesday morning, when many folks were finishing up last minute packing and checking flights, I was getting on a bus to Washington DC with around fifty other members of the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM). The mission: meet with legislators about important issues for women in mathematics. More generally, we were there to talk about supporting STEM research, education, and careers, promoting equity and inclusion in the field, and some legislation that we believe would work toward these goals. The AWM has been organizing advocacy trips to Capitol Hill in Washington DC for several years now. Of course, as I write, the Joint Mathematics Meetings has brought over 5000 mathematicians to Baltimore to talk some serious (and not so serious) math. The AWM planned a visit for Tuesday to take advantage of this confluence, so close to the nation’s capital. This was the largest Hill visit of the program, with 50 participants visiting 47 congressional offices, speaking with legislators and their staff members spanning 18 different states. AWM groups met with 33 Democrats, 13 Republicans, and 1 Independent. The participants were fairly evenly drawn from undergraduate students, graduate students, academic faculty, and business/industry/government mathematicians.

In our meetings, we spoke to staffers about some bills and issues that we care about, but also shared our stories and asked for theirs. Beyond sharing information, our goal was to connect with people and give them faces to connect with the issues. Michelle Snider, with some help from the rest of AWM Government Advocacy committee, put this visit together, created some terrific training material, and some documents that we could share with the legislators. More generally, Gail Letzter and the Policy and Advocacy committee has done some work putting together a list of priorities and the AWM’s relevant positions here.

Group outside office

Elizabeth Foster, Zoë Frolik, and Sophie Aiken outside Bernie Sanders’ office

My group consisted of Elizabeth Foster (Senior Math major at Metro State University in Denver), Sophie Aiken (Senior Math major at Colorado College), Zoë Frolik (very recent graduate of Colorado College, majored in Math and Political Science), and me (an assistant professor at Colorado College). Over the last two weeks, I’d made appointments for us with the offices of Senator Michael Bennet (D, CO), Senator Bernie Sanders (I, VT), Representative Diana DeGette (D, CO), and Representative Doug Lamborn (R, CO). Each of us took the lead on one office. I went first, since this was my second hill visit (see this PhD+Epslion entry for my first), and even though I had done it before I felt a surge of adrenaline as we walked into Senator Bennet’s office. This work definitely takes me out of my comfort zone! But I felt ready and in the end I think it went really well.

Watching the students lead their groups, I felt SO PROUD of them. They were well-spoken, thoughtful, and prepared. I was struck again, as the first time, by the impact of actually speaking to legislators and their staff members face to face—outside of this program, it never seemed possible for me to just make an appointment, walk in, and say my piece to these powerful people. But it is! And, like giving math talks, it only gets easier after the first time. The AWM does many great things for the mathematical community, and has had a real effect on my mathematical life. Participating in this visit was both empowering for me and my students, and a way to give back to the AWM and the field as a whole.

group visiting Representative DeGette’s office

Sophie Aiken, Beth Malmskog, Representative Dianna DeGette, and Elizabeth Foster

Government Advocacy committee chair (and honoree of this year’s Service Award from the AWM) Michelle Snider has gone on many hill visits, and she had some thoughts to share about their significance:

“Despite being a small, nearly all-volunteer organization, the AWM was able to meet with 10% of Congress in just one afternoon. In this time of the near-constant news cycle, it is important to know that there are a lot of legislators who are working on issues that matter, who aren’t making headlines.

“These offices were willing and able to make time to meet with us, to hear the personal stories about how the Federal shutdown is affecting the mathematical community, from short-term effects like people not being able to attend conferences this week, to potential long-term damage to NSF-funded programs like REU’s potentially not being offered this coming summer.

“Congressional offices hear polished arguments from all sides of many issues. What the AWM Hill Visits offer are personal stories of how the current legislation affects people working in STEM fields, reassurance and encouragement to offices whose policies support our community, and different perspectives to those which don’t.”

The AWM has a whole lot of other events this week at the JMM, too! There are general descriptions here and a nice pdf with actual times and specifics is linked on the page.

My fave place to meet up with friends at the JMM is always the Reception and Awards Presentation following the Gibbs Lecture. This year’s Gibbs Lecture is “Immunology for Mathematicians” by Alan S. Perelson, and takes place 8:30-9:20 in Ballrooms I and II of the Baltimore Convention Center. The AWM reception starts at 9:30 in Room 327/328, and is for everyone! There is always a cash bar, if that is a motivating factor.

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