Tuesday, June 22, 2021

UM Students Attend MSF Legislative Day in Jackson

The Ole Miss chapter of Mississippi First travelled to the capitol city for the group’s second annual Legislative Day.

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The University of Mississippi chapter of Mississippi First in Jackson, Miss. for Legislative Day on Jan. 21

Mississippi First is a policy activism think-tank based in Jackson. Joined by public policy-driven students from the Black Students’ Union at Ole Miss, Mississippi First (MSF) gave this handful of students a look into the world of the Mississippi legislature during its busiest time of the year on Jan. 21.
Junior Kaitlyn Barton, a public policy leadership major, organized Legislative Day, an event that MSF has hosted before.
“We hope that, in the future, each year can build into the next thing,” Barton said. “Next year we hope to do some advocacy, have workshops beforehand, and talk to people about how to effectively communicate with their member of the legislature.” The trip consisted of a tour of the Capitol building, as well as a question-and-answer time with Senator Gray Tollison, an Oxford legislator and chairperson of the education committee. Tollison is often involved with MSF events because the club is historically focused on discussing and advocating education policy.
“What is unique about him [Tollison] is that you can really see his heart for Mississippi and his heart for education,” Barton said. “He loves to talk to students and he loves to talk to people who are interested.”
Barton believes that Tollison’s passion for education in Mississippi and his ability to effectively advocate makes him a “hidden treasure” in the Mississippi state legislature. Throughout his conversation with the MSF students, Tollison upheld the need for a disruptive approach to Mississippi’s current education system.
“It used to be we used rotary style phones or landlines—we don’t use those anymore,” Tollison said. “The same thing is about to happen with K12 education and higher education. Mississippi has to embrace it and do it right.”
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Ole Miss students on the steps of the Capital building in Jackson, Miss.

Other major topics of conversation included charter schools, district consolidation, and teacher quality and pay, among others. Throughout the talk, Tollison left the conversation open to the group. He often pondered aloud on innovating policy as he went. While musing on improving teacher quality, Tollison addressed a Mississippi First member majoring in biology and asked, “How can we get you to come teach in our schools?”
In that spirit, Tollison emphasized the importance of college-educated, young people contributing to the world of education. That sentiment is the foundation of the Ole Miss branch of Mississippi First.
“We want to engage college students in policy and policy advocacy,” Barton said. “It’s a way to start a conversation with young people, because in Mississippi, there is so much that needs to be done and age shouldn’t be a deterring factor.”
MSF is looking to grow and recruit new students to be involved with its mission. Barton sees the group as an opportunity to show every student that he or she can truly make a difference.
“Just because you’re 18 to 22 years old doesn’t mean that you can’t make an impact in the state where you go to school and, for most of them, where they grew up,” Barton said.
To learn more about Mississippi First, their mission, goals and activities, visit www.mississippifirst.org
– Grace Sullivan, staff writer, HottyToddy.com, gmsulli1@go.olemiss.edu
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