For the past 10 years, Margo Jackson, Ph.D., professor and former Chair of the Division of Psychological and Educational Services, has lobbied on behalf of psychology students and the counseling profession at the federal level. This year, her work has been ever more important because of the pandemic’s effect on the economy. Working through the American Psychological Association in October, she led a team of psychologists in a series of virtual meetings on Capitol Hill with legislative staff to advocate for the passage of three bills that could possibly help alleviate some students’ financial burdens. The bills (listed below) target reducing student loan debt during the pandemic.
HR 7761 – To provide for student loan forgiveness for public service workers whose employment may have been affected by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID–19) pandemic. Public service workers is a broad term that includes teachers, nurses, police officers and more.
HR 6720 – To provide student loan forgiveness to health care workers who are on the front line in response to COVID–19.
HR 7449/S 4141 – To refinance Federal and private student loans, and for other purposes.
According to Jackson, these bills are structured to bring financial assistance to students in training and early career professionals who are providing essential public services in government funded and non-profit organizations, particularly those most affected by the pandemic.
One person can make a difference
Jackson emphasizes to her psychology and counseling students that the work they do every day in schools, hospitals, community health agencies and colleges lends itself to falling into the category of advocacy. If you are working on behalf of anyone, as most psychologists do, you are actually advocating for and with them. However, she added, most people only think of advocacy work at the macro level, influencing legislators on Capitol Hill. She teaches her students there are multiple ways to intervene with positive methods of advocating. And, one person can make a difference; one person in relationship to another person can make a difference through ripple effects.
Role with the American Psychological Association
Through the American Psychological Association, Margo Jackson, Ph.D. is honored to serve as a Federal Education Advocacy Coordinator for NY/NJ. In her leadership position, she serves with other leaders from many quadrants of psychology such as trainers, educators, and practitioners – people who are serving the public in many different forms of public service. APA brings them together with lobbyists on behalf of APA and staff members who advocate on behalf of education at all levels, including the graduate level. As a grassroots advocacy leader through the APA, she keeps abreast of advocacy efforts and progress, then helps pass that information on to others.
In her advocacy work with APA, Jackson represents the mission of the Fordham Counseling Psychology Program in the Graduate School of Education, which takes a holistic educational approach to training counselors and psychologists beyond a medical model that focuses on deficits, toward caring for and educating the whole person. The program realizes the need for counselors and psychologists to understand and work with medical professionals, yet further assesses an individual’s strengths, including a focus on multiculturalism and social justice. As such, counselors and psychologists work with their clients and students to identify and address survival and resilience strategies, beyond medication treatment.
Initial and continued involvement with the APA lobbying effort
Jackson was Chair of the National Council of Counseling Psychology Training Programs. As a national leader, she was invited to an APA training for advocacy at the grassroots level. At the grassroots level, team members share stories with legislators – real world stories – to support causes that bills are being drafted to address. The advocates meet with Capitol Hill staff members of the Senate and House of Representatives to discuss the bills. Sometimes they go individually or with a team.
In October of this year, Jackson was designated a team leader and met with her members in virtual practice rooms to prepare for what they would say. Her team included psychologists Jacks Cheng of Jacoby Hospital, Susan Optotow from CUNY, and Anna Van Meter from Northwell Health. Teams were grouped by constituent areas to meet with congressional leaders from the areas where they work or vote. Together with participants at the 2020 APA Advocacy Summit in October, over 170 digital meetings with Congress were held to advocate for support of three bills to address student loan debt and ensure student loan forgiveness for frontline health care workers, researchers, and psychologists in public service.
The last time Jackson went in person was June 2019, working her way through the labyrinth of Capitol Hill and seeing so many other constituent groups advocating for various causes, which she said is so inspiring. Her advocacy team then included Isabella Tomei, an APA summer intern and undergraduate psychology major at Fordham University.
APA’s stance on advocacy supporting the underserved
When the APA started its grassroots effort about 20 years ago, it showed the level of funding for graduate psychology education was minimal. Since then, the level of funding has exponentially risen due in large part to the APA’s legislative advocacy work. One example of success in funding support is the APA Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) award, which helps members of groups who are sorely underrepresented in the profession, but overrepresented in needs for service. The MFP support improves access to the pipeline to advance these professionals and expand needed services with those underserved.
How can I become involved in advocacy?
There are many ways. For students, alumni, and faculty, professional associations provide training and access to advocacy efforts and valuable resources for how to advocate at the local, state, and federal levels (e.g., the APA, the American Counseling Association, and the American Educational Research Association). Also, any constituent can respond to Advocacy Alerts (like those that Jackson passes along in posts to GSE and PES newsletters) that make it possible to connect in only a few minutes to legislative initiatives and relevant offices and relay your views. All voices count!