Conquering Capitol Hill
Why two Phi Sigs joined the fight for better Greek housing - and how you can help
When collegians Erin Keenan and Amber Snyder arrived in Washington, D.C., from two completely different parts of the country this past April (never having met before), they knew they were breaking new ground – not just for themselves and their future careers, but for Phi Sigma Sigma, too.
Neither had much experience, if any, with the nation’s capital, let alone with lobbying for something as important as safe, affordable Greek housing at universities (a proposed law called “CHIA” – the Collegiate Housing and Infrastructure Act).
What’s more, Phi Sigma Sigma had never before sent college students to participate in a grassroots-based lobbying effort led by the Capital Fraternal Caucus (CFC), which represents the national interests of Greek-letter organizations on Capitol Hill.
Yet, the results of our sisters’ incredible efforts – and indeed, of the more than 100 Greek collegians and alumni representing nearly all fraternal organizations – are being hailed as nothing short of amazing.
Indeed, though experts say there’s work to do and even more ways Phi Sigma Sigma sisters can still help this legislation succeed (see more information at bottom), they confirm this important Greek housing bill is now closer to becoming law than ever before.
Phi Sig takes the lead
Among other things, CHIA is designed to correct a quirky tax law that permits universities and colleges to use charitable contributions to build and maintain student housing, yet bars nonprofit housing entities, including Greek organizations like Phi Sigma Sigma, from doing the same.
Fixing the law could ultimately mean more opportunities for Phi Sig to build new, even more affordable housing for our sisters.
The Greek-led lobbying effort in April helped the proposed legislation take a big step forward.
“For the first time in recent history, we have a Democratic senator from the Finance Committee who has become a sponsor of CHIA,” explains Kevin O’Neill of Patton Boggs, who helped prepare the collegian lobbyists through an intensive training session so they could canvass Capitol Hill and secure support for the legislation.
“Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) became a sponsor… and our opinion is that, having secured one Finance Committee Democrat, we will now secure more, and their support is critical to moving CHIA forward,” O'Neill adds.
Among the four Greek students praised for that major accomplishment was our very own Amber Snyder (Theta Alpha – Northern Michigan University), a senior from Chicago who’s double-majoring in public relations and political science.
“Everyone was so well prepared, and we took this responsibility very seriously,” Amber explains. “For more than a day, we studied the legislation, discussed why it was important, and practiced over and over again what to say and how to say it so we seemed as polished and professional as possible.”
Erin Keenan (Gamma Zeta – University of Rhode Island), a political science and law major from Cranston, R.I., agrees. “It was amazing…. We learned how to get right to the point, address concerns, and relate to the specific needs of lawmakers’ constituents.” To do that, she explains, students stayed up until all hours of the night researching the senators and representatives they’d been assigned to meet the next day – usually from the states where they attended college.
Not every office they visited was receptive. Some lawmakers sent their legislative aides to meet the Greek lobbying teams, which reportedly visited as many as 400 offices in a single day; others flat out said it wasn’t a law they could support at this time.
Even so, Amber and Erin say the majority of lawmakers they visited saw real value in the bill, and could very well be swayed to join the nearly 100 congressional sponsors who are already on board.
The entire experience was truly exciting – for both the Phi Sig collegians and alumnae representatives who attended, says Gina Kerley (Delta Gamma - San Francisco State University), long-time Fraternity leader who currently serves as Phi Sigma Sigma’s 2nd delegate to the National Panhellenic Conference and is also a 2007-2011 appointee to its executive committee, overseeing the Alumnae Panhellenics Committee supporting all 26 sister organizations.
“This is the first time Phi Sigma Sigma and two of its top student leaders have joined our fraternal colleagues in supporting and promoting legislation like this,” she explains, noting that alumnae have been involved in the past, but not to this extent.
Including Gina, three other alumnae participated: Fraternity Executive Director Michelle Ardern (Delta Iota – Central Michigan University), veteran volunteer Katie Vlietstra (Chapman University – Epsilon Delta), and Erin Sweeney (Beta Delta - Ohio University), who serves as Fraternity counsel and President of our National Housing Corporation.
Alumnae offered additional insight, support and guidance to collegians as required – but that wasn’t often, they say.
“These sisters were quick to take the lead during our visits, and it was evident they’d done their homework on the issues and on each congressional leader they were meeting,” Michelle says. “Both Amber and Erin did an incredible job, representing Phi Sigma Sigma impeccably – and we should all be very proud of them.”
Both collegians applied for the opportunity to participate, winning the coveted all-expenses-paid trip earlier this year.
“We’re so grateful to the Fraternity for this opportunity,” Amber says. Adds Erin, “Now I’m sure that my studies, and my chosen profession (law), are perfect for me.”
Get involved! How you can help
All Phi Sigma Sigma sisters are asked to help pass this important legislation. It’s easy, fast and you can participate online. Check out these resources:
Do you know an outstanding Phi Sigma Sigma collegian who should be profiled here? Write us at email@example.com.