116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Paras Bassuk wants his student peers in Iowa to have the training and access so they can advocate for themselves in the Iowa Legislature.
The Iowa City West High student launched a new group, Iowa Youth Advocacy Network, in February to connect with other students and learn together how to get their voices heard by their local representatives.
Paras, 17, a senior at West High, said one of the most powerful things for legislators to hear is students’ voices, which often are missing from public legislative forums.
The Iowa Youth Advocacy Network already has over 40 students from across Iowa involved.
The bipartisan group was an idea Paras came up with after serving as a member of the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council, a group of students who advocate for important issues affecting youth.
Paras’ opinions and Iowa Youth Advocacy Network do not reflect the official will of the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council or the Iowa Department of Human Rights.
Q: Why do you think it’s important for students like yourself to know how to be advocates in the Iowa Legislature?
A: Some of the legislation proposed this session struck a chord with a lot of youth. A variety of anti-LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) bills were proposed, and that scared a lot of students across the state.
I was able to speak out against them at several Senate subcommittee hearings alongside other community members in defense of LGBTQ+ youth rights.
I was often the only student who attended these meetings, and I wanted to spread the word on how to engage with the Legislature as a high school student. I have more of a voice than I thought I did.
Q: Tell me about your role in getting Senate File 248 sponsored and put forth as a bill.
A: The (State of Iowa Youth Advocacy Committee) Education Committee (which I chaired) wrote a position statement on equitable education standards that was sponsored in the Iowa Senate by Sen. Joe Bolkcom. This bill would add cultural responsiveness training and restorative justice training to teaching license requirements, and added equity and representative requirements to curriculum standards.
Our bill did not make it through the first funnel in the Iowa Legislature, but we are proud to have started a conversation about education equity at the state level.
Q: Did you learn how to engage with the Iowa Legislature in high school, and why do you think it’s important for students to know how to advocate for themselves at the legislative level?
A: I don’t think I was taught much of this in school. I think it’s really brave of people to speak up, and one of the most powerful things for legislatures to hear is student voices.
Q: How can students get involved in the Iowa Youth Advocacy Network?
A: So far, I’ve approached trainings as collaborative workshops. None of us are professionals in legislation, lawmaking and policymaking. We workshop our ideas and discuss our hope for the Legislature.
Meetings are held via Zoom, and we talk about what it means to be a citizen and actively participate. The goal is to encourage people to participate.
Q: What are your plans next year after graduating from high school?
A: I will be at the University of Iowa, and I’m considering studying ethics and public policy and psychology.
To learn more about the Youth Advocacy Network, visit https://ia-yan.carrd.co/.
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