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).
The emerging consensus is “that many colleges and universities choose to pay significant attention to various aspects of community engagement and civic participation,” but “they devote minimal attention to political engagement, specifically” (Colby et al., Educating for Democracy).
One of the goals of the Hart Leadership Program is to increase the number of structured educational opportunities that expose undergraduates to politics, and promote political participation.
C2P’s premise is simple: invite to campus young elected officials and political figures who have chosen careers in public to share why their stories. In the short-term, students have the opportunity to ask questions and learn from young leaders who are shaping their communities. In the long term, C2P hopes to contribute to building a more robust political culture at Duke, and in the process, inspire students to choose careers in politics and public service.
Begun in 2008, C2P programming that first year included former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and then-Newark Mayor, now-Senator Cory Booker.
The motivation for C2P stems from the major conclusion in Educating for Democracy, the Carnegie Foundation’s groundbreaking study on student political engagement.
“We know that well-organized efforts to strengthen political participation among undergraduates and other young American can succeed, suggesting that young people will respond favorably to being treated seriously as potentially powerful political agents”
(Colby et al., 2007, 43).
There are many tactics and approaches to fostering political engagement in college students, including community-based research projects, service-infused learning, classroom-based discussion groups, and critical reflection. However, campus officials in the trenches “have found that connecting students with individuals who are especially knowledgeable about, experienced in, or passionate about some aspect of politics can be helpful to student learning – especially their political understanding and motivation – in ways not accomplished by readings and class discussions” (Colby et al., 2007, 198).
C2P events during the 2015-16 academic year were offered by both the Hart Leadership Program and POLIS: Politics, Leadership, Innovation and Service. The theme was political organizing.
The Hart Leadership Program provided grassroots organizing training sessions for Duke undergraduates with Ivan Parra, lead organizer for Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (Durham CAN).
In early December, POLIS hosted Heather Smith, former president of Rock the Vote. former president of Rock the Vote. In February, POLIS’s C2P event was with digital media expert Macon Phillips, former White House Director of New Media, and subsequently Coordinator of International Information Programs for the State Department.
“This is a great activity, and probably my favorite way that I engage with Sanford outside of the classroom. Every speaker was engaging and interesting in their own way, and I really could not
give the program higher marks overall.”
“Great program and a lot of fun. Great to meet interesting speakers and hear about their political and life experiences. The biggest contrast between C2P and other Duke programs is that it is primarily student-driven. At dinners, I didn’t feel like I had to compete with professors
and donors questions—it was all on us.”
“C2P was an excellent method of facilitating political discussion on campus. We spoke to politicians that I agreed and disagreed with, which was a nice way to help me understand my own political beliefs and better clarify my ambitions for public office. I loved the cities theme because many of our discussions focused on policy and people, not just politics.”
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