Looking to combat youth disengagement from politics and foster collaboration among student leaders, Harvard's Institute of Politics will host nearly 50 undergraduates from 24 colleges for a conference entitled "Bipartisan Advocacy: Finding Common Ground" on Sept. 27 and 28.
The conference will feature workshops on negotiating and facilitating dialogue, as well as panel discussions on bipartisanship and youth initiatives. Dan Glickman, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and former U.S. secretary of agriculture, will speak on promoting collaboration across the aisle.
"I think the main message is that [students] have to get engaged on their campuses to sell the idea that bipartisanship, while it's a nice idea, needs boots on the ground, needs advocacy to get things done," said Glickman, who is also a former director of the Institute of Politics.
Amid persistent news of millennial disillusionment with politics due to the ongoing partisan impasse, Laura Simolaris, director of national youth engagement at the Institute of Politics, said the conference organizers aim to build a support network among a "group of like-minded students from around the country who still do believe that politics and public service are a way to make a change in their communities."
The invited schools are members of the Institute of Politics' National Campaign for Political and Civic Engagement, a growing consortium of 25 colleges and universities representing a range of public, private, small and large institutions from across the country. Conference attendees will serve as National Campaign ambassadors on their respective campuses throughout the academic year.
According to Simolaris, the students have crafted plans to direct on-campus awareness and advocacy campaigns on topics including sexual assault, student debt, voting rights and accessibility, immigration relating to undocumented students and redistricting in college towns.
Harvard junior Niyat Mulugheta, the student chair of the National Campaign committee, added that all of the students will hold each other accountable for enacting their programs after the conference concludes.
Glickman said that he hopes the conference's call to action will motivate students to become more engaged in electoral politics and increase pressure on politicians, reigniting the political influence of the youth exhibited during historical eras like the civil rights movement and Vietnam War. He noted that debates surrounding the federal budget, debt, and foreign policy are several of many impediments to bipartisanship and emphasized the importance of the student voice in shaping future policies.
"This generation must get engaged on those things, as well, otherwise it will happen to them, not as a result of what they want," he said.
Two of the roundtable discussions on bipartisanship and millennial action will be livestreamed on the Institute's website on Saturday for students across the country to watch.
"The idea is that if they're watching it nationally, they'll try to use their campuses as a place where they can implement some of the things that they're going to hear," said Glickman.