IU Civic Leaders spend fall break on Capitol Hill
Oct. 19, 2016
Students in the 2020 class of IU Civic Leaders got to spend their fall break in Washington, D.C., but the trip was much more than a vacation for the students. Many walked away inspired to help make change on both a local and national level.
The three-day visit was jam-packed with networking events; talks with White House representatives; a Supreme Court tour; a colloquium featuring a speech by IU School of Public and Environmental Affairs Professor Paul Helmke; private sessions at the Capitol with seasoned politicians; and, of course, exploration.
IU Civic Leaders is one of IU’s 11 Living Learning Centers on campus aimed at providing students with a community of like-minded people. The Civic Leaders Center was established in 2013 by SPEA as a program for IU freshmen of all majors who have an interest in leadership, public policy and making a difference in the world. Students in the program live in the Briscoe dorm, take specific classes tailored to the program and have access to influential politicians and leaders through experiences like the trip to Washington, D.C.
It was the community element of the program that drew IU freshman Lexi Laginess, studying nonprofit management and leadership, to the IU Civic Leaders Living Learning Center.
“Being in the LLC gave me a group of friends right from the start,” Laginess said. “I live with a group of people that think like me, were leaders in their high school like me and who want to get involved at IU like me.”
Enacting civic engagement
The group of IU Civic Leaders who traveled to D.C. heard from various speakers over the course of the trip, and a common theme presented by all was that their voice matters. With 2016 being an election year, and arguably one of the most divisive elections in U.S. history, that message resonated with the students.
The group’s first stop was the White House, where students heard from members of the Obama administration on hot-topic issues and the legislation to improve these issues.
IU alum Jerry Abramson, current White House director of intergovernmental affairs, spoke passionately about the importance of citizens standing up for issues they believe in and encouraged students to run for office if they were interested.
For Luke Robbins, a law and public policy major, running for office is something he thinks about every day. In fact, he launched a campaign this year to run for Indiana state representative, only to find out that Indiana requires those running to be at least 21 years old. However, he plans to run again after he graduates.
“It was very interesting to hear from the current administration about what they are doing on the inside. We were able to put a face with the words we hear, and see what they are doing with their time and our tax dollars,” Robbins said. “I know I want to go into public service and to go to Washington, D.C., and experience it on the inside has definitely given me more of a push and urge to do more. This is what I want to do. I want to earn the people's trust, run for office and make a difference that way.”
The second day of the trip included a tour of the Supreme Court, where students like Mag Maurice reveled at the history of the building.
“The whole weekend honestly felt surreal,” said Maurice, who is studying law and public policy, said. “This was my first time in D.C., and I felt like everywhere I walked I was walking on history and history to be made. It still doesn’t feel real to me that we sat in the Supreme Court, a courtroom where decisions were made that affect me, and millions in the U.S. and abroad, daily.”
After touring the Supreme Court, students were invited to a private discussion with both past and present political figures in the Capitol’s Senate Reading Rooms.
Speakers included Indiana's former U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar; The Atlantic’s Washington Editor at Large Steve Clemons; Brian Malte, senior national policy director of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; G. William Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and Marc Goldwein, senior vice president of the Nonpartisan Committee for Responsible Federal Budget.
The students were exposed to a variety of viewpoints on the current election, policy changes, the media’s role when it comes to political coverage and how to be engaged citizens.
Perks of the program
Many of the students in the Civic Leaders Living Learning Center have goals to work on Capitol Hill one day, and the Washington trip is designed to give them an introductory experience to what that would be like.
For Maurice, who is originally from Haiti, the trip highlighted a need for more diversity within the government and made her want to work hard to make that a reality.
“This trip showed me that not only can I hold a position in government, but I have to,” Maurice said. “I hope that there will be more diversity and representation in government in the next few years, and I hope to be a part of that change.”
The trip also provided networking opportunities with alumni of SPEA and the Civic Leaders Living Learning Center and with current IU students who are studying in D.C. through SPEA’s Washington Leaders Program.
“We are making connections that are going to last a lifetime,” Robbins said. “We are all highly educated with regards to civic engagement, and those of us who plan on running for office or being committee organizers can call on one another someday and say, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s make this happen.’”
The IU Civic Leaders program aligns with priorities outlined in the university’s Bicentennial Strategic Plan, including a commitment to student success.