Cedar Valley joining nationwide political actions: Senior taking part in shaping current legislation in Des Moines

Senior Aastha Chandra has been involved in the State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council (SIYAC) since 2015. Below is a recent interview with her about her extensive work in politics.

What is SIYAC? The State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council is an organization of about 20 Iowa youth from around the state. This program was established by the Iowa legislature to “Foster communication among a group of engaged youth and the governor, general assembly, and state and local policy makers regarding programs, policies and practices affecting youth and families.” In a nutshell, what we do is we create bills that advocate for Iowa’s youth and families and lobby for them to pass the state legislature and become law.

What do you do?/ What have you done in SIYAC? We create and support a various number of position statements, which eventually, if they gain sponsors in the House or Senate, become bills. We have an agenda for 2017 that involves 10 to 12 bills. The one I personally worked on last year, my first year in the program, was a sexual assault education bill requiring all Iowa high schools to provide a standardized sexual assault curriculum to proactively prevent sexual assault. This bill made it through the Iowa Senate unanimously with bipartisan support, but in the House we could not get a subcommittee. This legislative session, we have to start all over, but we’ve already gained sponsors in the house.

This year I’m also working on a bill to eliminate the statute of limitations on sexual assault. Currently in Iowa, it is 10 years, three years if they find new data through rape kits. We just want to eliminate it because of what happened recently with the Bill Cosby case in California. California has recently eliminated the statute of limitations on sexual assault, along with 27 other states.

So it sounds like a lot of what you’re doing with SIYAC has to do with the sexual assault legislation. Why is that an area of interest for you? Thankfully, I have no personal experience with sexual assault. Four years ago, I was visiting India and just before my arrival, Jyoti Singh, a woman in her early twenties was brutally gang raped in Delhi where I was staying, and there were protests all over the country, but especially in Delhi. Because of the lack of work that the legislature in India was doing on sexual assault,  men weren’t prosecuted very well for committing these crimes, and it wasn’t looked as on as a serious issue, hence the protesting. There were protests right across the street from where I was staying, involving people from all socioeconomic groups.

I saw this protest, and at the time I wasn’t very involved politically, but it made me want to get involved politically. When I came back to the U.S., I started getting involved with rape culture and campus rape, as those are more prevalent in the U.S. I started looking up some information and finding some pretty jarring statistics, so I got involved with the Teal Tuesday program and feminism as a whole, and that led me to join SIYAC my junior year.

How did you hear about SIYAC and when did you get involved? I remember seeing the work done by class of 2016 CFHS graduate Aditi Rao to ban conversion therapy for minors, and I thought that was really cool how she made an impact at such a young age. I looked into the program that she was working with, which was SIYAC. I decided to apply, thinking that I could work on various things related to sexual assault, whether that’s eliminating the statute of limitations like I’m working on now or the education side of it. I decided to apply and was accepted the summer before my junior year.

What has SIYAC done for you? SIYAC has kindled my passion for politics and civil engagement. Before joining, I had a few interests but found trouble in pursuing them. This is my second year in SIYAC, and I have since had the opportunity to speak with legislators like state Senator Jeff Danielson and state Representatives Bob Kressig and Timi Brown-Powers, to name a few. It’s taught me to be more confident in my beliefs and to speak out because I can actually get something done about it.

Who should get involved in SIYAC? I hate to say this, because I feel it’s so cliché, but everyone who has the passion to make a difference should get involved because there are so many different ways you can get things accomplished in SIYAC, like I was passionate about ending sexual assault and I found a few ways to do that through SIYAC with the legislature. If you’re interested in anything else, whether it be radon testing or raising the purchasing age for tobacco, including gender identity in the hate crime law, things like that. You can actually accomplish those things in high school, and that’s really cool. Especially if you have an interest in politics, I’d say get involved. It’s really cool to work with it in this manner. If you want to get involved, just look up “State of Iowa Youth Advisory Council,” and you should be able to find our page. We have an application starting soon, and the deadline will be sometime this May.

How else are you politically active? This past summer, I went to the American Legion Auxiliary Iowa Girls State program, and I really enjoyed the program. We got to immerse ourselves in local and state government, and I had the opportunity to represent our state as one of the two Iowa Girls Nation Senators. I got to go to D.C. and meet 99 of the smartest girls from around the country, and that was really cool. These girls are so involved in their community, and it was interesting to hear about their passions. We got to create bills as a mock senate. My fellow Iowa senator and I wrote a bill that would incentivize colleges to accurately report sexual assault statistics on their campus by taking away federal funding if they didn’t, and that was one of a handful of bills that actually passed the senate. It’s really cool to see the interests of students and future leaders from across the nation.

Anything else? We have quite a few bills that we’re working on this year, including banning conversion therapy for minors in Iowa (what Aditi started when she first came to SIYAC), a suicide-prevention training requirement for teachers, sexual violence education, ending the statute of limitations on sexual assault cases, mandatory radon testing for schools every 10 years. One that I’m really excited to get to know more about is expanding youth voter rights, like lowering the voter registration age to 16 from where it currently stands, 17 1/2.

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