Harvard National Campaign Conference – Anita Voorhees, Baker Ambassador – Feb. 2017
Harvard National Campaign for Civic and Political Engagement
February 3-February 5, 2017 – Harvard Institute of Policy
The Harvard National Campaign Conference consisted of students from around the country with one common interest: improving other people’s lives around the world through public policy and reconnecting America. Most of the students who attended are involved in public policy centers on their campus, similar to the Howard Baker Center for Public Policy at The University of Tennessee Knoxville. During the conference, we split into three different policy groups: citizenship, media, and inequality. Citizenship included voting laws and national service, the media involved the prevalence of fake news, and inequality involved tolerance and dealing with diversity.
I was involved with the inequality policy group, which created a plan to lessen intolerance in America by providing diversity education to young students across the country. The problem we see in America is that many people have an intolerance toward those of other races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations. Americans do not know how to deal with people who are different from them in a civil way. As a solution, the group I was working with has proposed to develop a diversity lesson plan. Our lesson plan, if successful, will be taught in middle schools across the country. We hope, in due time, to spread our plan to elementary schools and high schools as well. Our goals in developing this lesson plan are to educate Americans about diversity, to eliminate false history, and to produce empathy toward others in the hearts of young people. Education in the United States needs to become less America-centric and more world-centric. We must teach history in a real and honest way. America has not always been perfect, it is not perfect, and it never will be perfect. Educators and administrators should not be afraid of teaching a history that will make America look bad. It is important to teach the realities of Columbus’s exploration. He did not discover America; the Native Americans were already here. It is imperative to realize that Abraham Lincoln should not be called “Honest Abe.” We must be willing to be honest about America’s faults. We should additionally be weary of calling America “the best country” or “the world police” because this type of teaching leads to white-supremacy and racism in the hearts and minds of young people. Our lesson plan, if successful, will reduce these preconceived notions and racist tendencies in Americans. We have asked for support from the Harvard Institute of Politics and will be appealing to Americorps, Teach for America, and other nonprofits to receive backing for our program. We cannot force administrators and educators to adopt and implement our lesson plan, but we hope our plan will be implemented into as many schools as possible. We believe education is the best way to change the culture and eliminate structural inequality in America.
The other facet of our policy to reduce inequality and intolerance in America is our grassroots initiative. This counterpart will focus on equipping people from different races, cultures, genders, sexual identities, and religions to run for public government offices. This will allow growth in our country because people will begin to see that someone of a different culture and background can be just as good a President as someone from an American culture and background. This counter-initiative also includes an opportunity for eighteen to thirty-year-olds who are leaders in their community to do research on diversity and inequality and develop proposed solutions to the problem. This research would look similar to the already existent Fulbright. Ultimately, our hope is to have this plan, both on the education and the grassroots side, implemented by Fall of 2017. Each of us will be talking to our local congressmen and reaching out to our city’s educators during the Spring of 2017. Over the summer, then, teachers can begin to plan how they will be implementing our lesson plan into their curriculum. By Fall 2017, the plan should be ready to implement in the schools who agree to be involved. It is a quick turnaround, but I believe with determination and persistence, it can be done.
This conference taught me to go after whatever it is I want to pursue. We visited the Kennedy Presidential Library, and we learned of Kennedy’s character and urgency in getting the job done. Kennedy believed if something was to be done, it should be done immediately. The spirit of the conference was similar to that sentiment. Joe Goodwin and Congressman Dunahan both stated not to put limits on ourselves. They told us that we could do anything we set our mind to doing as long as we had the persistence and tenacity to do it. The Harvard IOP conference has inspired me to go out into my community and my world and truly make a difference. I have learned that one person truly can make a difference, and young peoples’ voices truly can be heard. I learned my generation’s time is now. In a divisive period in American history, it is my generation’s turn to reconnect America and bring peace and restoration to our nation. I am so excited to see the great things my generation will do to change not only America, but the world!
Anita Voorhees, Baker Ambassador, Feb. 15, 2017
Editor’s note: Anita was also able to meet Lisa Dicker, Baker Scholar and 3rd Year Harvard Law. Lisa and Anita are great examples of active, engaged and curious students who are wonderful representatives of our Baker students programs.