The Yale Politics Initiative’s second annual preliminary speaker list features practitioners such as former president of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards, former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Founded last year by Paul Gross ’20 and Michael Michaelson ’20, the Yale Politics Initiative’s master-class series brings guest speakers to give a one-time, off-the-record seminar to Yale students. During the initiative’s first year, students were able to attend master classes taught by five political figures, including Patti Solis Doyle, a senior adviser and aide on the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, and Jeff Roe, a Republican political consultant.

“We reached out to political professionals, and … the list is pretty diverse ideologically,” Michaelson told the News. “So we looked for folks who we thought could give an in-depth, candid lesson to Yale students about political practice.”

This year’s preliminary list also features Deray McKesson, a Black Lives Matter activist; Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress; Brad Parscale, President Donald Trump’s 2020 campaign manager; and Robby Mook, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager.

Gross said that the list is not comprehensive, “but gives a good sense” of the kinds of professionals the program will bring.

“We’re trying to bring a balance of campaign professionals … and then also people more on the legislative strategy side, people on the administrative strategy side, and then as well, people who know about activism,” Gross said.

According to Gross, the semester’s first few master classes will take place after the November midterms, as a number of the invited speakers are involved in the elections. The first master class, which will feature Parscale, will likely be held in the week after Election Day on Nov. 6.

Students must fill out an application to attend each event, which will be capped at approximately 20-25 students. According to Michaelson, this year’s sessions will allot more time for the Q&A portion, as last year’s attendees “loved having the chance to ask the guests candid questions.”

Gross also said that the goal of the master classes is to focus on the practitioners’ expertise, rather than their personal opinions of political figures.

“[Our speakers] are often asked, ‘What’s Hillary Clinton like on a personal level?’ and Cecile Richards knows Hillary Clinton, but that’s not what she’s an expert in, she’s an amazing legislative strategist,” Gross said. “So in the master class — and in the other formats that we’re thinking about — we’re just trying to find a way to bring out our guests’ expertise.”

For example, Gross said the initiative is exploring a series of ad-making workshops as a possible venture. The group hopes to bring a “whole bunch of political ad-makers” to host workshops in the spring. Two ad-makers at a time — one Democrat and one Republican — will host lessons for the students, according to Gross.

Students interviewed by the News were excited about the speakers and noted their diversity of political backgrounds and relevance.

Neelam Sandhu ’21 praised the initiative’s efforts to be bipartisan, noting that this will provide Yale students with the opportunity to hear different perspectives.

“What’s especially exciting about this year’s list is that it clearly engages a bipartisan audience, which is crucial at Yale,” Sandhu said. “I think it’s easy for classes to become echo chambers at times, and bringing in speakers from across the political spectrum will really revitalize the discussions we have in the classroom, since there’s so much value in respecting other opinions even if we don’t fully subscribe to them.”

Yara El-Khatib ’21 said it would be “interesting” to listen to such “controversial figures, given recent political events.”

Kaley Pillinger ’21 said that she was “very excited” about the list and was impressed by the Initiative’s ability to get “so many speakers who are major players in the current political scene.”

Some other students said they were surprised that the Initiative invited three speakers who have been involved with the Trump administration.

“It’s an interesting choice, especially given recent tensions,” Maeve Forti ’20 said. “I … don’t support suppressing views just because I don’t agree with them. There is a platform that would be well-suited to showcase these speakers — [but] I’m just not sure that a master class aimed at inspiring careers in politics is it.”

The Yale Politics Initiative is sponsored by the Yale University Department of Political Science, the Block Fund and the Strickler Fund.

Aakshi Chaba  |