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Democracy as a Verb

A group of college students sat in a dorm room in the nation’s capital not long before the inauguration, kicking around this question: Is it possible for a person to be a conservative and a feminist?

The room was split, the dialogue ran deep and late into the night.

Such was the tone of a two-week seminar, “Inauguration 2017: Can We Elevate Political Discourse?” hosted by The Washington Center. Five Hofstra students left for D.C. in January, excited to bear witness to the peaceful transfer of power. They came back with a greater appreciation for the transformative power of conversation with someone whose views differ from their own.

“I’m not reading news the same way,” said political science major Victoria Buckley, ‘19. “I’m not watching news the same way. I find that I’m a lot more open to opposing views.”

Said sociology major Bernard Coles, ‘17: “I have more patience now, and I’ve learned to always ask questions.” “Rather than just shutting down, I’m able to have the conversation.”

“It’s important that we talk to people whose ideas differ from our own. It helps us understand the country we’re living in and hopefully make better decisions as a nation."
Aleena Pasha, ’19


Students at the inauguration-centered seminar heard major players in political and policy circles talk about hot button issues currently facing the nation.

Discussion Group

“We’re living in a very polarized political climate right now,” said political science and global studies major Aleena Pasha, ’19. “It’s important that we talk to people whose ideas differ from our own. It helps us understand the country we’re living in and hopefully make better decisions as a nation or even just to go about having relationships with people.”

Students explored and embraced the city, meeting with individuals and organizations that shape policymaking, and getting an insider’s view of the nation’s capital.

“People come here to work hard and achieve their dreams,” said senior political science and Spanish major Jessica Simonelli, ’17. “It’s going to be hard to forget this beautiful city.”

""We are taken out of our comfort zones here. We’re being challenged.”
Victoria Buckley, ‘19


This seminar was not the first time that Hofstra students witnessed political and presidential history unfold. The University hosted its third consecutive presidential debate on September 26, 2016. Students had an opportunity to volunteer, talk to media, and attend lectures from a robust lineup of speakers.

Debate 2016

Pasha volunteered handing out debate media credentials. “Hofstra put a lot of energy and resources into getting the entire campus active in politics and the election,” she said. “The debate was like Disneyland for a political science major. It was the greatest thing I’ve ever done.”

Political strategist and award-winning author Michael Eric Dyson was part of Hofstra’s Debate 2016 speaker series. He was also among presenters at The Washington Center seminar, discussing race relations.

“The coolest thing was seeing Michael Eric Dyson again,” said Coles. “Listening to him talk about these issues and diving so deeply … and resonating with people on issues that I identify with was just amazing. It was indescribable.”

“These are truly transformational experiences. They help students make decisions about what they want to achieve."
Meena Bose


Time and again, the students found themselves immersed in conversations that challenged them to think about what shaped their beliefs in new ways. In one exercise, students were asked to write journal entries in which they argued a point of view opposite from their own.

Students working together

 “We’re given information to interpret, and then we form our own opinions and discuss,” said Buckley. “We are taken out of our comfort zones here. We’re being challenged.”

One discussion, for example, focused on the need to learn about other religions and cultures, and whose responsibility it is to provide that education.

“I’m Latina and Muslim,” said Pasha. “And sometimes it can be difficult to be like, ‘I’m Muslim, and this is why I’m not a terrorist.’”

Said sophomore political science and global studies sophomore Elena Santo, ‘19 who was among the 500-plus Hofstra students who won a ticket to attend the presidential debate: “People are asking questions I never would have thought to ask. And the way the speakers are answering – I’m just learning so much from these different perspectives.”

Hofstra in D.C.


Some of the students already have plans to go back to D.C. Buckley is even applying for an internship with The Washington Center - the largest academic internship program in the world.

Pinning the map

“These are truly transformational experiences,” said Meena Bose, Executive Director of the Peter S. Kalikow School. “They help students make decisions about what they want to achieve and introduce them to a world of people who share a passion for politics and public service.”

Fast forward to Inauguration Day, where another Hofstra connection found its way to D.C. Students were invited by a Hofstra alumna to a parade watch party filled with politicians, lobbyists and business owners.

“We have students who work so hard and are able to achieve high profile jobs and have connections everywhere,” said Pasha. “We had a fantastic time at this party.”

There’s this notion of doing democracy that separates observation from action. Anyone can learn about history in a textbook. Participating is a different story. Among the crowds flooding the streets of D.C. during the Women’s March were some of the Hofstra students who had attended The Washington Center seminar two weeks earlier.

“The whole thing came around full circle,” said Pasha. “It just feels like the end of a chapter, but it’s also the beginning of something.”