Rutgers students take part in national conference at Harvard Institute of Politics
Two Rutgers students and one administrator participated in the National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement conference at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Institute of Politics.
The event began on Feb. 3 at 6 p.m. and lasted until Feb. 5 at 12 a.m.
Over 70 undergraduate students from 28 different universities came together to discuss the divisiveness of national politics, and created plans to take on this issue.
Conferences have been held annually since 2003, with goals of working collaboratively on projects, fostering interest in politics, providing civic education and assisting students interested in public service careers.
Brendan Keating, the program coordinator of the Youth Political Participation Program (YPPP) at the Eagleton Institute of Politics, said that having the chance to interact with students from all different areas and backgrounds, from big schools like the University of Texas at Austin, or a small school in Pittsburgh like Allegheny College, was a great learning experience for the students.
“With people that were obviously on different sides of the aisle, they were able to learn stuff from each other and realize the point is not how we get there ... we’re going to differ on our views of how we get there, but if the point is making things better for everybody in the country, that’s something that we all agree on,” Keating said.
Julia Stadlinger, a junior in the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, was one of the two students invited to attend. She was selected through Eagleton to attend the conference because of her previous work with the Darien Civic Engagement Project and RU Voting, Stadlinger said.
The weekend-long event consisted of town hall-style discussions on significant issues, followed by breakout groups where students created plans to approach those issues.
“We talked about what is going on, (and) what is stopping our country from going in the right direction. We shared all of those ideas and then we got it down to three core issues, one of which was citizenship which had to do with civic engagement, but also just people’s feelings of political efficacy, another one was structural inequality, and another one was media and the whole idea of fake news,” Stadlinger said.
Later the students split up into breakout groups based on the three issues. There was a group on citizenship, media and a structural inequality group. Stadlinger was in the latter.
“Basically what they were saying (when broken up into groups) was how can we address these issues in a way that will bring our country together,” Stadlinger said.
Monica Beshay, a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences, was the other student from Rutgers selected to attend the conference.
“I really enjoyed going to (the) National Campaign Conference at Harvard. I learned that as college students there are so many of us trying to make a positive impact in our own universities. It was nice seeing other students from around the country,” Beshay said via email.
Beshay said that she took many things away from the event that she finds applicable to the Rutgers student body and community in general, including consuming different types of media, fact-checking sources, the importance of civic engagement for the millennial generation and working to understand other people’s perspectives.
“We need to learn about the other side. Despite the fact that people have different political beliefs from you, does not mean you do not listen to their argument and point of view. We need to acknowledge the fact that one way is not always the best way at all times,” Beshay said.
Being able to come together and discuss past experiences with students from different schools and backgrounds and how students can take what we learned back to their universities was a very positive experience, Stadlinger said.
“One idea that I really liked was from the citizenship group, they were talking about having a civics fair in school — it’s kind of a similar idea to a science fair, but through the roots of effectively teaching civic education. So like experiential learning [and] community-based projects that also relate back to being civically engaged,” Stadlinger said.
Ryan Stiesi is a sophomore in the School of Arts and Sciences. He is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.