Courtesy of the YPI

The Yale Politics Initiative will now host their annual series of political seminars virtually to align with public health standards.

The series is a collection of one-time, off-the-record seminars taught by politicians, operatives and activists. Although the seminars usually bring guests from across the country to speak to a select group of students on campus, this year they will be hosted on Zoom.

“The seminars are 20 students and the guest,” wrote co-director of the Yale Politics Initiative Jocelyn Wexler ’22 in an email. “The small format is meant to allow for honest discussion — it’s completely off the record, which I think is very unique to our program. Guests are shockingly honest, and it makes for great conversation.”

The fact that the seminars will take place over Zoom brings both benefits and challenges. According to Wexler, while Zoom has erased the complications that come with travel and has broadened the array of speakers the YPI is able to engage with, it has also raised concerns about the security of virtual seminars. Despite this, the organization decided that Zoom would be the safest and most effective way to continue the seminar program, as it both complies with public health standards and allows students to participate regardless of whether or not they are currently on campus.

In order to attend the seminars, students need to fill out a brief application detailing the types of speakers they are interested in hearing from. From there, Wexler and co-director Rabhya Mehrotra ’23, who is also an editor at the News, choose participants for each seminar, with the goal of curating a diverse group of students in terms of backgrounds and interests. Overall, they are looking for students who will “be present and engage meaningfully.”

While each seminar is different, all of them focus on political practice rather than political ideology. The YPI is nonpartisan and speakers span the political spectrum. The program has previously brought in speakers like former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, former president of Planned Parenthood Cecile Richards and James Carville, chief strategist for Bill Clinton. This year, the YPI will bring in a variety of speakers, from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager to one of the co-founders of the Lincoln Project.

“Our goal is to give people an honest perspective on how politics works in America,” wrote Wexler in an email to the News. “Each seminar should provide a different perspective, and we want students to come away with a sense of ‘ah, so that’s how policy gets passed, ads are created, speeches are written, or campaigns are managed’ in the real world.”

For Ananya Kachru ’22, the YPI seminars are one of her favorite parts of what Yale has to offer. Kachru estimates that she has attended 15 seminars, and she has enjoyed interacting so personally with the speakers and hearing advice and stories from individuals with a lot of political experience.

Although she has enjoyed all of the YPI seminars she has attended, the two that she recalls most fondly are the seminar with David Simas, CEO of the Obama Foundation, and the seminar with Amanda Litman, founder of Run for Something. She remarked that the kindness of all the speakers stuck with her.

“I think the YPI seminars are underrated,” said Kachru. “Not a lot of people talk about these, and I don’t know why because they are so special.”

But while Kachru has had the opportunity to attend multiple seminars, Jonathan Schwartz ’21 has never been admitted to a single one.

Currently a senior, Schwartz will not be applying for a spot in the seminars this year.

“I’ve been applying for YPI seminars for three years now, and as a senior, I’ve never been admitted to a single one,” said Schwartz. “I don’t understand why these classes need to be so exclusive. YPI seems more like a means for their own student leadership to guarantee themselves opportunities to network with accomplished figures than an opportunity for a diverse and inclusive group of students to learn about politics.”

The Yale Politics Initiative is an initiative of the Yale Department of Political Science sponsored by the Block Fund, the Strickler Fund and the Yale Institution for Social and Policy Studies.

Julia Bialek | julia.bialek@yale.edu