Connect 2 Politics engages students in the political arena

As Duke prepared to play at Notre Dame in a January 2015 basketball match-up, Notre Dame’s hometown mayor Peter Buttigieg seemed to be on the wrong campus. But Buttigieg’s Duke visit was no mistake. He was here for Connect2Politics (C2P), an initiative of the Hart Leadership Program (HLP).

C2P introduces students to public service through small-group interactions and a public lecture with a speaker. A 12-student committee organizes C2P events. “The overall goal of C2P,” notes Committee President Jay Sullivan, Trinity ‘16, “is to engage students to think about the political arena and its relevance to the things students care about.”

Committee member Diego Quezada, Trinity ‘15, added that the program aims to reach a wide array of students, and over time build a culture of political involvement at Duke.

C2P began in 2008 as a way to bring young elected officials to campus to meet with students. In 2014, the program focused on leaders of cities and municipalities. This past year, C2P was organized around a speaker series with theme of “Second Service”– veterans who are continuing their public service through elected office.

Featured speakers and veterans include Mayor Buttigieg, MSNBC Host Patrick Murphy, and Tulsi Gabbard, a Congresswoman from Hawaii. Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein, who has written about veterans and public service, also spoke.

C2P faculty mentor and Visiting Assistant Professor of the Practice Tommy Sowers, a veteran himself, said C2P strives to make a “deep and personal connection” between political actors and students. “All the members of C2P get a chance to interact and break bread with political actors,” said Sowers.

Committee member Tara Bansal, Trinity ‘17, gleaned a valuable lesson from these meetings. She spoke one-on-one with the former mayor of San Antonio and a speaker last year, Julian Castro. “His encouragement was to keep up to date with politics, and to spread that engagement to other people,” said Bansal.

While Sowers advises students, they are ultimately responsible for organizing a speaker’s visit. “Students take on the leadership roles for the events- planning dinners, making travel arrangements and showing speakers around campus,” said committee member Zachary Gorwitz, Trinity ‘17.

In the future, Quezada said he hopes the program makes students realize they can impact their communities by getting involved in politics.

“We need to instill in people, especially those our own age, that we all have a role to play, and we can all make each other’s lives better,” said Quezada.

 Author and Time political columnist Joe Klein, between Professor Tommy Sowers (left) and senior Diego Quezada, addressed a crowd in late February as part of the Second Service: Veterans Continuing Public Service series.

Author and Time political columnist Joe Klein, standing between Tommy Sowers (left) and Diego Quezada, a Duke senior, addressed a crowd in as part of the C2P speaker series called “Second Service: Veterans Continuing Public Service.”