Kenyon’s branch of a national think tank expands its reach by collaborating on campus.
The Roosevelt Institute at Kenyon seeks to make progress and advance policy proposals. Since the local chapter opened three years ago, members have analyzed Kenyon’s finances, discussed mental health on campus with the Peer Counselors, led lobbying trainings for Kenyon Students for Gun Sense (KSGS) and gathered Kenyon students from Knox County to identify ways to improve post-high school preparation in the community. This year, the two permanent members of the club, Alyssa Williams ’17 and Devon Chodzin ’19, have put the organization’s think tank practices to the test by addressing a new issue: how to cement the organization in the Kenyon community.
“We’re getting our stable footing down, trying to establish name recognition,” said Williams, the club’s former president and now the organization’s chapter coordinator for the Midwest region.
The Roosevelt Institute is a New York City-based think tank that focuses on incorporating young people into public policy discussions. Its website boasts more than 10,000 college students and recent graduates in its programs. Kenyon’s chapter was founded in 2014 by Phoebe Roe ’16 and Sam Whipple ’16. While the national organization tackles larger issues like international trade, college chapters typically focus on local issues in their communities. They receive guidelines and tips from the national organization but, for the most part, have free reign.
Kenyon’s chapter takes a flexible approach to programming. Unlike chapters at other schools that host weekly meetings, Roosevelt at Kenyon members look for ways to use their policy knowledge to assist other organizations on campus. Earlier this year, Williams hosted a training session for KSGS on lobbying local representatives on gun control issues. She heard about the organization’s plans for a lobby day and reached out to the president of the club to see if there was interest in working together.
“At the moment, we are primarily planning programming to get the name out there to remind people of what we are,” Chodzin, Roosevelt at Kenyon’s current president, said.
The Roosevelt Institute doesn’t just give students guidelines for devising their own policy. It also gives students a platform to publish their policy proposals on the organization’s blog and in Ten Ideas Journal, a print publication that the organization releases every year featuring the 10 best proposals from chapters around the country. After the members flesh out their policies, they are then expected to implement them in their communities.
At other chapters, the process from publication to implementation has been a success. A student Williams knows at Connecticut College recently published a policy proposal in the Ten Ideas Journal about providing free tampons on campus. This past year, she used the proposal as a stepping stone to implement the plan at her college. With the help of her school’s maintenance staff, she has installed tampon dispensers in several of the school’s building.
Because of the Kenyon chapter’s current focus on connecting with other organizations on campus, Roosevelt at Kenyon has not yet implemented any of its own policies. But the organization has done work to generate local policy ideas: On Feb 21, they hosted a Dessert and Discussion in the Horn Gallery to discuss making the College more eco-friendly.
David Heithaus ’99, the director of the Office of Green Initiatives, was one of those present. He was impressed with the publishing aspect of the organization. “It creates a positive, competitive environment where campus chapters are more likely to identify and execute focused projects,” Heithaus wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Director of Community Partnerships Jen Odenweller also attended the event. “You have to admit that if you want a great impact, policy is typically the way you’re going to have to go,” she said.
Roosevelt at Kenyon followed up their meeting at the Horn with an event demonstrating the practice of coalition mapping , a process in which one determines which groups to target to implement policy. Williams chose a policy they had outlined at the Horn: the implementation of an eco-friendly curriculum in new student orientation. In a scene that was fitting of Roosevelt Institute’s think-tank nature, Williams and Odenweller exchanged ideas until the potential policy evolved into a county-wide green initiatives program that might better incentivize the College’s participation.
Williams enjoys the club’s ability to incorporate non-students into its discussions. “Every time there’s a community member and a student in the same room having a conversation together, that’s something we want,” she said.
The club is in search of leadership right now — Williams is graduating in May and Chodzin is going abroad — but Chodzin is confident in the club’s ability to maintain students’ interest. “A lot of students, when they do get involved, they’re pleasantly surprised,” he said. “There is a lot more opportunity for their own leadership to come through.”
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