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Students Learn How to Affect Policy, According to Founder of New Campus Group

Publication Date: 3/24/2010

From healthcare to the environment and from education to foreign affairs, government policies affect nearly every aspect of our lives. Over the years, policy changes have often yielded unintentional consequences, and as a result, many citizens are calling for reform. In response to this call for change, Walter Clapp, a senior at Rhodes, has organized a non-partisan student group called “Students for Sensible Policy Reform” to raise awareness about policy reform.

It all started in 2009 when Clapp founded a chapter of “Students for Sensible Drug Policy,” an international organization of students who seek to reduce the harms caused by drug abuse and drug policy. Clapp says, “I got the inspiration for the group when I was investigating the case for legalizing marijuana and the history of its role in policy in comparison to alcohol and tobacco. But at some point, I realized that this wasn’t the only issue and that there were a lot of things that, as a nation, we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes.”

Wanting to appeal to a larger audience, Clapp changed the name of the Rhodes group to “Students for Sensible Policy Reform.” The goal is to teach students how to be sensible about policy and about their role in affecting it as voting members of society.

“There are so many ways that policies affect your everyday life in ways that you can’t even imagine,” argues Clapp. “We don’t understand that every time we make a purchase at the grocery store, we’re voting for organic or not, or free-range or not, and most importantly, healthy or not. These issues can open students’ eyes to the ways that policy affects their lives.”

At each meeting, members discuss and debate about specific policies. For example, agricultural and food policy was a hot topic at a recent meeting. Clapp explains, “Because of a lobbyist group that pushes for corn subsidies, you have partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in practically everything, which are worse than animal fats and butter. We have food dyes that have been scientifically linked to hyperactivity in children, and while the EU has banned them, the U.S. has disregarded that.”

As the debate on healthcare continues, Clapp discusses the link between food policy and rising healthcare costs. “When you look at welfare participants who try to make the most out of their food stamps, they buy the cheapest foods filled with the most carbohydrates and fats, and that’s setting off an obesity and diabetic epidemic throughout the country. That is a direct product of policy-making, and it’s affecting not only individuals’ health but also our responsibility for paying for other people’s healthcare.”

Besides attending the group meetings, Clapp suggests that students read labels on items they buy at the grocery store. “Look for anything that’s artificial, such as flavorings or colors. I would also support buying organic and local,” Clapp adds as his purchasing preference. “I recommend seeing Food Inc., watching this short video at www.thestoryofstuff.com, reading Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, doing research on your own, and exercising your right to vote every time you go to the grocery store.”

Clapp argues that although buying organic and local is more expensive, that it might be worth the extra money. “You have to remember that your body is the only body you have,” he says. “You’re paying a little bit more money, but you’re paying for something that’s valuable. You don’t buy the cheapest car you can find if it doesn’t meet safety qualifications.”

(Information compiled by Rhodes Student Associate Brianna McCullough ′10.)

Tags: Campus Life, Students

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