photo courtesy of Hilary Scholten's Twitter
In a sparse office next to a cheese shop on Fuller Avenue, a former attorney for the Department of Justice is running to become the first female representative of Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. The old Volunteers of America sign still stands atop the building, but a small yard sign sits in the window: Hillary Scholten for Congress. I met with Scholten earlier this week to discuss her campaign and the issues that are important to college students.
Scholten, who worked as an immigration lawyer under the Obama administration, returned to her native west Michigan in 2017 following the election of President Trump. In Grand Rapids, she was an attorney at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center. “I’m someone who throughout my life has been advocating for people on the margins,” said Scholten, who has worked at the Justice Department, Mel Trotter Ministries and other organizations that aid underprivileged individuals.
Scholten spoke to the importance of her Christian faith in motivating this advocacy: “My faith has always motivated me to action. The example of Christ was not just to read and internalize. It was an act of service… As Christians we’re called to the same kind of action.” In a follow-up email, Scholten elaborated, saying, “Our faith teaches that every person and every other living thing has inherent worth and dignity. It also teaches that we are called to uphold that dignity and protect it through the work of our hands.”
This inspiration to act didn’t come from just anywhere. Scholten cited the example her mom, a public school teacher in a high-poverty school district, set while growing up. “She opened our home to [her students] and went above and beyond for these families,” she said. It was this type of commitment that Scholten says caused her to continually ask, “What more can I do for my community?”
Students and education at all levels are important issues for Scholten. When asked about college students in particular, she spoke to how they have been crucial to her campaign. “College students are our future leaders,” she said. “We are connected with a lot of students who have interned on this campaign in our outreach that we have done.” In particular, Scholten said that they have found students tend to focus on issues that will affect them and future generations, such as living wages, and especially the effects of global climate change.
Scholten noted the concerns of female students specifically in a time where, she said, “there has been a real backlash against women’s rights, and women in particular are excited about this campaign.” Advocating for women and girls is an important aspect of Scholten’s campaign. Scholten noted that the entirety of West Michigan has only ever been represented by one woman, Republican Ruth Thompson. Thompson served as the representative for Michigan’s 9th District when it covered a portion of West Michigan from 1950 to 1957.
In terms of encouraging and educating West Michigan’s students, whom, preschool through graduate school, make up 25% of her district, Scholten stressed the need for more funding in public schools. “The schools are disastrously underfunded,” she said, adding, “we need to pay [teachers] what they’re worth.”
Investing in schools also includes “common sense” gun reform for Scholten. “We’re building schools here in West Michigan to make them responsive to an active shooter, to give students places to hide,” she stated. She noted that her children, ages nine and seven, who were off in a side room watching cartoons during the interview, have to participate in active shooter drills regularly. She spoke with disdain that “that’s something we’re willing to put on young children, as opposed to solving this problem ourselves.”
“To sort of put a fine point on it,” Scholten said when discussing the issues that affect the people of the 3rd District, “I really saw a lack of representation at our congressional level… for people who really needed it… and felt that West Michigan was ready for the first woman to represent them.”
Students that are interested in volunteering for Scholten’s campaign can find information at hillaryscholten.com.
Note: Hillary Scholten is married to Chimes advisor Jesse Holcomb. Holcomb had no role in writing, editing, or reviewing this piece.