Many Yalies taking a leave of absence are working on political campaigns, as the 2020 election nears amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The details of campaign work differ for each student, including location and time commitment. But all six students interviewed by the News cited a similar reason for taking time off: a belief that ahead of the 2020 election, campaign work provides a more meaningful experience than enrolling in classes for this modified semester.
“During a time of political turmoil and opportunity, I felt as though I could find something to do that would be equally educational, more fulfilling and less expensive than another Zoom semester,” wrote Emma Knight ’23 in an email to the News.
For the upcoming semester, Knight, who would have been entering her junior year, now works as a field organizer for Alex Kasser’s reelection campaign for the Connecticut State Senate. Knight said that she was excited to campaign at the grassroots level in “a contested local election of personal importance,” since Kasser represents the district neighboring her own. And although it is a local race, Knight’s campaign work is largely remote. Because of this, she will be living in New Haven with a Yale friend for the semester while working full-time on the campaign.
According to David Simon, director of Undergraduate Studies for the Political Science Department, this fall offers an opportunity for Yalies looking to be involved in politics, even though it centers on a pandemic.
“It’s a rare alignment of crisis and opportunity that gives students a possible chance to make a difference on campaigns,” Simon said.
Like Knight, Sofia Godoy ’24 will be working on a campaign in her hometown this semester. She cited a distaste for taking online classes during what would have been the start of her sophomore year.
Godoy also said finding a meaningful replacement for classes that could also offer financial stability was not an easy task.
“While many students are able to travel elsewhere during their gap semesters or choose internships solely based on their interests, many FGLI students like myself don’t have that luxury,” Godoy wrote in an email to the News. “The simple reality is that I had to find something paid that I could do from home.”
For the fall semester, Godoy will be a full-time field organizer for Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s reelection campaign in Florida’s 26th district. Godoy spends her time reaching out to voters and organizing community events ahead of what she says is “the most consequential election in modern history.”
Lizzie Bjork ’22 similarly took time off to work on a campaign after having already taken a leave of absence to work for several political campaigns last spring. Although she is not permitted to share specific details about her current campaign work, Bjork will be working full-time on a senate race for the fall semester.
“There was something Kamala Harris said in her convention speech that really stuck with me,” said Bjork. “She said: ‘Where were you when the stakes were so high?’ I felt very fueled by the sense that I need to do everything I can. And for me, I’m lucky enough to have the option to delay graduation and the ability to relocate and do campaign work.”
Bjork took time off from classes last spring to take on a variety of positions — including work as a fellow for Elizabeth Warren’s campaign in Iowa, an organizer for Amy Klobuchar’s campaign in Tennessee and a position for Organizing Together 2020 in Michigan. Because of her past campaign experience, Bjork felt like she had “knowledge to share” with other Yalies about seeking out such opportunities. She compiled a resource document during the summer to help other students navigate how to take time off to work on campaigns.
Yale’s announcement that the sophomore class would not be invited back to campus in the fall made Nader Granmayeh’s ’24 decision to forgo classes far easier. Interested in politics and disillusioned by online courses, Granmayeh decided to take a leave of absence in order to fully engage with campaign work. Although he is also not permitted to publicly share the details of his position, Granmayeh looks forward to contributing to this historical election. But even though Granmayeh is taking time off from classes, he said that people do not need to work full-time in order to get involved in campaigns. From one-time phone banking shifts to part-time work, students can support candidates in a variety of ways.
The U.S. General Election will be held on Nov. 3.