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Reframe Podcast: Episode 36

EHS Goes to Washington

Naomi pictured in Washington DC

In this episode, EHS goes to Washington,

There are a lot of different ways to help struggling communities heal and thrive. And in this episode, we hear from an EHS student who wanted learn how she could better serve her local community by learning the ins and outs of our political system. And, along the way, she also unexpectedly found herself helping another local community heal in the aftermath of a national tragedy.

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe, The podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

In this episode, EHS goes to Washington,

There are a lot of different ways to help struggling communities heal and thrive. And in this episode, we hear from an EHS student who wanted learn how she could better serve her local community by learning the ins and outs of our political system. And, along the way, she also unexpectedly found herself helping another local community heal in the aftermath of a national tragedy.

(MUSIC FADE) 

Life as a Washington insider is never predictable. Which is what Naomi Gaston quickly learned while participating in a Miami University program called Inside Washington. 

Inside Washington gives students the chance to meet and work with influential national leaders. And Gaston and her Miami peers were in D.C., speaking with House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise. He’s the Louisiana congressman who was shot and critically wounded during a congressional baseball practice last year when news of the Parkland school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas first broke. 

Naomi Gaston:

We were with Steve Scalise when the Parkland shooting happened. Like, we were in a meeting with him. And comes in and they are like, “Hey, this shooting just happened at this high school.” Like, you know, talk to him about it. We are with him talking to him about gun control when he finds out about Parkland. So it’s just experiences like that. You just never know what’s going to happen.

James Loy:

Gaston, a social work and black world studies major, is interested in community organizing and advocacy. These are not fields that typically send students to this particular program, which often hosts those more interested in political science and journalism. 

But for someone like Gaston, who is concerned with helping individuals and communities thrive, it was an ideal way to learn how to help local voices be heard at the national level.

During the first half of the program, Miami students hear from guest speakers, visit important sites, and generally gain insight into the world of Washington through face-to-face meetings. And alongside Congressman Scalise, Gaston also met with Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House and Miami alumni Paul Ryan ‘12, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and more. 

Naomi Gaston:

Being able to be in the room with people who you’ve only seen on TV. Like, being able to sit down with Nancy Pelosi and ask her a question. Any question in the world. It really just humanized everybody for me. Because I feel like we think that they are these big figure heads and politicians. But sitting down with them and asking them about their views and having them explain it to you in their own words it was just great.

James Loy:

The second part entailed a hands-on internship related to each student’s field of interest. And during hers, Gaston worked for Congressman Alcee Hastings, U.S. Representative for Florida's 20th congressional district.

This also happened to be the district that bordered the same district where the Parkland shooting just occurred. Her district also had students who went to Parkland, just because of the way the district’s lines were drawn.

Naomi Gaston:

So that fueled my whole internship because when you are an intern you are answering phones, you are responding to emails, looking at the mail. So the majority of the mail was about Parkland, and how it’s affecting their community, how it’s affecting their students. So that was the major thing that we had to handle on a day to day basis. 

James Loy:

It was all about, she says, helping the community heal.

Because immediately following the aftermath, district offices were flooded with calls and visits from alarmed citizens concerned with the safety and well-being of their kids and communities. And Gaston walked into her internship just as the chaos began to unfold.

She primarily served as an intermediary for Congressman Hastings and his staffers, a point of contact between the district office and its local Florida residents. She answered phones, responded to emails, and even drafted letters on behalf of the congressman. It was really about knowing the congressman’s stance, so she could communicate that to the constituents. 

Naomi Gaston:

So just really that point of contact between the staffers and the congressman and chief of staff and the community when they are calling or making visits.

James Loy:

So in being that point of contact, being in the office as all this happened and seeing it all happen, did you feel like it was making a difference? 

Naomi Gaston:

Definitely. A lot of the gun control calls and people calling about Parkland, being able to tell them, “Hey, this is what the congressman is working on right now. This is what he is doing in the community.” We had the reception for Parkland survivors. My congressman spoke at that, so being able with the people who survived and just to speak with them about their experiences and being able to tell the constituents about that. I can’t speak to every office but in my office, I know that our constituents were being heard. 

James Loy:

She also attended the now-historic March for Our Lives rally alongside her congressman and his chief of staff, and generally, kept the public aware of exactly what WAS being done.  

Naomi Gaston:

My office was so in touch with everything that was happening. They were reaching out to different organizations in the community. They were talking with the school. Just seeing how they are all functioning because it is hard. And I think that from your community or your house or watching TV, it seems like nothing is getting done and nothing’s happening. But really seeing the process in which it has to happen, it is a slow process but seeing them on it every step of the way and just really in tune with everything that’s happening. It definitely gave me a different perspective of the government in general. 

James Loy:

It’s a perspective Gaston has already brought back to Miami, and one that will inform her future career. 

Today, she’s back in Ohio, doing summer work with the Peaslee Neighborhood Center, which promotes participatory education and social change among local Cincinnati residents. Here, Gaston is already using what she learned in Washington to think about how the center can better secure funding and lobby local leaders. 

Because during the program, while she was Inside Washington, she was also allowed to attend meetings between political leaders and lobbyists for non-profits and public schools. And it’s an experience that’s given her some invaluable insight to a process that still so unknown to most people. 

Naomi Gaston:

It’s so vital. Just understanding the inner workings and understanding how stuff gets done. Because so many people come to Washington and they just don’t know what to expect.

James Loy:

It’s been the kind of experience that’s pulled the curtain back just a little, to reveal ways in which it is possible to get involved the political process, on both the local and national level. And it’s especially vital for anyone who, like Gaston, wishes to be a part of the political and social change they hope to see.

Outro

Naomi Gaston is a Junior at Miami University studying social work and black world studies. There are many more episodes of our podcast now available on SoundCloud and on iTunes, where you can always leave us a review and a rating. 

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*Intro/outro music used in podcasts: "Tech Toys" by Lee Rosevere