Rebecca Blumenthal ’25 was no stranger to advocacy when she arrived on College Hill in fall 2021. As a high school student in Long Island, Blumenthal was involved in mental health and suicide prevention awareness efforts both in her community and across the New York area.
Once at Brown, Blumenthal hoped to engage in more policy-oriented advocacy that could have a tangible impact on the issues she had spent years raising awareness about. So she joined the Brown Initiative for Policy, a nonpartisan student-run think tank that aims to “translate quantitative and qualitative research on problems in Brown's community into solutions.”
“We can actually affect action instead of contributing to larger conversations,” said Blumenthal, who concentrates in economics on the public policy track. “I think that's what drove me to BIP in the first place.”
After starting as an analyst for BIP’s team focused on older adult policy, Blumenthal spent her sophomore year as a co-lead of the organization’s mental health team and started her term as BIP’s president this fall.
Founded in 2018, BIP has roughly 50 members who work on five issue-specific teams to research and advocate for policy solutions in Rhode Island, according to Blumenthal. In the past, teams have worked with lawmakers to draft legislation and testified at the State House.
BIP’s policy teams often restructure to adapt to the state’s policy needs. While the mental health and older adult policy teams have operated for multiple years, others, like the confession accountability team, began just last spring. Students regularly move between teams based on needs, Blumenthal said.
BIP members are also encouraged to pitch their own ideas for policy teams through the think tank’s annual “incubator” period, in which students propose a policy project and, if selected, work to develop it into a policy team.
The club’s “no-experience needed” philosophy is most apparent in the incubator, according to Blumenthal. “If you’re interested in something, we can make it happen for you and give you the tools to know how to do it.”
Last fall, Julian Cohen ’26 pitched a policy team that would seek to replicate first-of-its-kind legislation in Illinois that banned police from using deceptive interrogation techniques on minors to solicit confessions. BIP selected the project and Cohen became the co-lead for the Confession Accountability team the following spring.
As a team co-lead, Cohen said that he guides the direction of the team’s research while also liaising between the team’s analysts and BIP leadership.
This semester, the Confession Accountability team hopes to finish its research on the costs and logistics of implementing such a law in Rhode Island, Cohen said.
Each BIP team also works closely with local organizations to identify research and legislative needs in the community. These relationships are important to ensuring that the student-run organization is attuned to community needs, Blumenthal said.
“Something we talked about a lot is the positionality as Brown students stepping into Providence communities and being like, ‘We know what's best for you,’” Blumenthal said. “We’re up here, literally, on a hill.”
“We need some guidance from people who have been here and have had the experience and are really deeply embroiled in this issue,” said Kate Kuli ’25, a co-lead of the group’s mental health team.
The mental health team, Kuli explained, has worked closely with the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island in recent legislative sessions. In 2020, BIP and MHARI published the “State of Behavioral Health in Rhode Island,” a report on mental and behavioral health in the state, and the two organizations are now working on a report that analyzes private and public insurance reimbursement rates of behavioral health services for Rhode Islanders.
BIP’s partnerships with community organizations can help fill policy research gaps, said Faz Zaidi ’27, an analyst on the sexual assault and forensics examination team who joined BIP this fall.
“So many organizations need research on this topic,” Zaidi said. “We get the benefit of being able to get direction from them, and then we get to do analysis … and then support their legislation.”
Blumenthal emphasized how being in Rhode Island gives the group a unique opportunity to engage directly with the state’s legislators.
“We literally walk 10 minutes to the State House, and we meet with actual state representatives and important people — we even had meetings with the Rhode Island senators,” Blumenthal said.
“We’re very research and legislation-focused, and it cultivates this spirit of people who are really interested in actually effecting change,” she added. “It’s been really inspiring being around people like that.”