Students today are more aware than ever that politics has an immense impact on their lives. And when NYU students want to deeply examine this relationship, they turn to courses like US Politics and Policy in 2021 and Beyond. A three-week winter intensive hosted by the NYU Washington, DC, academic center, this course runs during NYU’s January Term. It offers a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in the US political landscape as you learn about elections, the two-party system, health care, taxes, foreign policy, and more—from insider experts.
Speak with Pollsters, Politicians, and Policy Experts
Patrick Egan, associate professor of politics and public policy, teaches US Politics and Policy in 2021 and Beyond. In a typical year, class meetings include site visits to quintessential centers of US democracy and history like the Capitol Building, the Supreme Court, and the National Museum of African American History and Culture. There is also a robust schedule of guest speakers from the world of politics. Highlights have included Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart and former chair of the Republican National Committee Michael Steele. Students have also heard from pollsters like John Anzalone. Each speaker offers their expertise and analysis on current debates in the political world.
Professor Egan also breaks down some of the technical skills required for political fluency, like statistical analysis. “Professor Egan taught us how to read polls like a pollster,” says Kevin Kurian. He is a College of Arts and Science junior who took the class this past January. Given the role of and discussions around polling in the last two presidential elections, this skill is invaluable. “It is one thing to know the general lay of an election through electoral polls. But it’s another thing entirely to understand how to analyze them and determine their validity.”
This year, of course, meeting in person at NYU Washington, DC, wasn’t a possibility. But virtual learning ultimately gave the class a wide reach. “We had students from all over the United States, from China, from Ukraine,” says Professor Egan. “In a sense, we brought Washington, DC, to their homes.” And in the true fashion of democracy, open discussion and collaborative dialogue was the focus. “To teach the class, Professor Egan talked with us instead of at us,” says Kevin. “He encouraged discussion and active participation, so there was a real sense of community.”
Understanding the Presidential Election
During a pandemic, and amidst a turbulent political landscape, this year’s guests were as relevant and influential as ever. Brookings Institution senior fellow Isabel Sawhill was one notable speaker. An expert on social policy, she has worked for the Clinton administration and has written a number of books about what she calls the “forgotten Americans.” They are the white working class, who swung decisively toward Trump these last two election cycles. Her lecture focused on the economic and social challenges this group faces and some solutions she’s developed that are under consideration in Washington. “She’s a great example of somebody who is really in the weeds of understanding the nuts and bolts of how these policies work but also thinks more broadly about their implications for people as a whole,” Professor Egan explains.
Tad Devine, longtime Democratic political consultant and chief strategist for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, was another speaker. He brought some of the advertisements he made for the Democratic National Committee this year and talked about the mechanics of producing them. He covered everything from target audience to camera angles. Additionally, he spoke about the kind of thinking that goes into presenting a president and their campaign to the public. “It was fascinating to learn about what a campaign looks like when the cameras aren’t rolling,” Kevin says.
Examining Every Perspective, Making Up Your Own Mind
When selecting speakers for the class, Professor Egan takes care to invite prominent figures from across the political spectrum. “The class is very committed to exposing students to a wide range of political views and perspectives,” he explains. “It’s more important than ever, as Americans settle into bubbles in terms of the media they consume and the people they talk to, that students are able to encounter lots of views, then make up their own minds about what they believe. If not, their ability to navigate the political world is going to be shallow.”
The class also wasn’t afraid to confront the complicated reality of US politics today. “We were literally in class as the events at the Capitol unfolded on January 6,” Professor Egan says. “It was such an illustration of the times that we live in. So we switched gears and tried to make sense of it as much as one could.”
But at the end of the day, the goal is for students to leave the class feeling hopeful and empowered. “The kind of person who wants to spend three weeks studying US politics in January is a pretty special student,” Professor Egan says. “They’re committed to figuring out how to make things better. And so I hope they emerge feeling engaged, with a sense of what they can do and what part they can play in repairing the country.”