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BYU students advocate for youth at SOPHE summit in Washington, DC

Fourteen BYU students had the opportunity to interact with federal legislators to advocate for youth mental health at Washington DC's annual SOPHE conference

A group of 14 young adult students gather together on white marble steps holding a large navy blue square flag with a large white Y in the middle.
Photo by Michael Barnes

BYU public health students had the opportunity to gain critical skills and present proposals focusing on youth mental health equity to federal legislators at the annual SOPHE advocacy summit in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 22-24, 2022.

The Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) holds their public health advocacy conference every year for professionals and students. This year’s theme was youth mental health equity, which consisted of topics such as racism, LGBTQ+ issues, mental health, and misinformation.

Two of the fourteen students who attended the conference, Parker Carlquist (‘24) and Litia Toluta'u (‘23), say the conference taught them a lot about the need for advocacy and having advocates to represent underrepresented groups.

“From this experience, I was able to learn more about the need for current and effective advocacy on both federal and state levels, and how individuals of all ages and backgrounds can take part in creating and finding solutions,” Toluta’u says. Toluta’u researched Utah’s current legislation and potential need for extensions on state compacts: the Utah Compact on Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion and the Utah Compact on Immigration.

Three young adult women stand in front of a white wall with a furled American Flag and a dark brown sign on the wall reading "Senator Michael D. Crapo/Idaho" in gold letters to their left. A young adult female and a young adult male stand on the opposite side of the sign in front of an open doorway leading into another room.
Students collaborated with Idaho federal legislator Michael Crapo. Parker Carlquist stands on the right.
Photo by Michael Barnes

“Finding common ground and seeking to frame the message to align with the values of the legislators was cool, because too often issues can be framed in partisan ways,” Carlquist says. “Yet, when we look at the common values we share, there is much more that unites everyone than that divides.”

Professor Michael Barnes, who teaches health communication and advocacy at BYU, helped the students in the weeks leading up to the conference. The conference began with two days of preparation in groups by state, with Carlquist planning for Idaho and Toluta’u planning for Utah. The third day they presented their research findings on how legislation can change to support youth health equity directly to their legislators.

“The students did a stellar job tailoring their messages to better align with the interests and values of the legislator while still making a case for specific action as a constituent,” Barnes says.