Though you might not see them protesting on the Diag or holding sit-ins, students at the University’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institution are still working to make their voices heard.
The Roosevelt Institution, which calls itself “the nation’s first student think tank,” is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded by Stanford University students in 2004. The University of Michigan’s chapter, one of 98 nationwide, launched in fall 2005.
University members of the student-led organization meet weekly in one of nine policy centers – small groups that craft policy on issues like the economy, health care and urban planning. Each summer, representatives from the institute’s chapters meet to decide on three “Roosevelt Challenges” for the coming school year. This year’s challenges include promoting responsible community development, improving civic participation and the criminal justice system.
Members of the University’s chapter share, debate and research different policy proposals that can then be published once a semester in the chapter’s journal, The Roosevelt Vanguard.
The Institution’s national office in Washington D.C. chooses the best policies to give to various state and federal legislators and advocacy groups in the hopes that they might be able to push for them to be adopted as legislature.
“Kids get more invested in research and working hard when they see their policies and their ideas going into the real world,” said LSA sophomore Kelly Goodman, who will be co-president of the University’s chapter next year.
Goodman said she thinks students want to be more involved in social and political activities, judging by the level of social activism on campus. The Institution, Goodman said, provides them with that opportunity.
“You kind of get the sense that they want to do more,” she said.
LSA sophomore Nathaniel Eli Coats Styer, chair of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, said he welcomes the think tank’s approach to campus politics.
“We really enjoy working with them because they do do [sic] something creative and different than we’re used to doing as College Democrats,” Styer said.
Brady Smith, chair of the University’s chapter of College Republicans, said he thinks the Institution has a “noble goal” but has been disappointed because there has been little interaction between the two groups.
“I think it’s important to not simply raise awareness, but to have a conversation about solutions, and that’s really the meat of policy,” Smith said. “I would be more than happy to add the Republican viewpoint and the Republican voice to their discussions.”
John Barrett, a law professor at St. John’s University and member of the Institution’s national advisory board, said students involved in the program probably won’t see their policy proposals put into place by government officials anytime soon. Still, he said that shouldn’t discourage them from developing their ideas.
“Policy proposals like this, papers like this, go into discussions,” Barrett said, “In time, there will be things that emerge from the political process that some of the young people will be able to feel some ownership to and connection to.”
Policy centers also host educational events like the University chapter’s China Policy Center, which invited students to be in a forum last week about what the nation’s growth means for Americans.
LSA senior Kurston Cook said the Institution’s “positive” approach to pressing political issues attracted him to the group last year. Cook said other student groups on campus often address problems in the political system but fail to propose feasible solutions.
Goodman said the University’s chapter distinguishes itself from other chapters because of its open structure. Any member of the group can write a policy proposal to submit for publication. The University chapter initially tried to replicate Stanford’s model. There, only certain members are allowed to write policy papers.
“Michigan is more participatory – everyone can do everything. We’ll teach you if you’re not quite on that level yet,” Goodman said.
Goodman said the University’s chapter will focus more on research techniques this coming year.
“Right now we’re more worried about the think tank process, more worried about teaching kids how to research, how to think critically,” she said.