Harvard’s Institute of Politics (IOP) recently kicked off the Spring 2016 semester with its biannual Open House event. Eager undergraduates flooded the halls of the JFK Jr. Forum at the Harvard Kennedy School, looking to register for programming and catch a sneak preview of the year to come.
Students were greeted with patriotic decorations and tri-fold project boards, which detailed the finer points on all 14 IOP programs. IOP Student Advisory Committee (SAC) members, with red, white, and blue flair in stock, engaged the crowd, making pitches and sharing their enthusiasm for the new term. On a secondary stage towards the back of the hall, selfies were snapped with cardboard cutouts of every 2016 presidential candidate. The night felt more like a party than an academic or political affair. In her opening remarks to the student body, IOP Director Maggie Williams had another way of putting it.
“You do not have to be a government concentrator to feel at home at the IOP.” She went on to say “current IOP participants and alums span the range of concentrations – from music to mathematics; from pre-med to philosophy.” Invoking the mission of the Institute and its existential purpose, Williams closed by saying, that “The IOP is a gift to you. It is a gift to everyone interested in politics.”
That interest level continues to grow in the student body, as it has nationally with the presidential election in full swing. Knowing what’s already come to pass, the next ten months will likely prove to be anything but typical in the world of politics. Throw in the IOP’s bevy of offerings to combine for political nirvana.
The JFK Jr. Forum, for instance, remains one of the last premiere venues for true political discourse. State dignitaries and experts from all over the world come to Cambridge to face unscreened and unadulterated questions from the community. That sort of access usually can’t be bought, let alone given out for free.
The IOP’s six spring 2016 Resident Fellows add to the mix with their fierce intellect and bounty of experience. They provide a nuanced look at the political world they inhabited through their study groups, which are open to the public.
The off-the-record tone of the study groups allows Fellows like former British Ambassador to the United States Peter Westmacott to provide unfiltered insight into, in his own words, the “need for diplomacy to… represent countries, provide context, help sensible decisions to be made and resolve and avoid conflict all together.”
Ultimately, the fellows program amounts to a treasure trove of wisdom and foresight. The culmination of their experience paints a mosaic of what the future might hold, and the study groups provide the training for those who might choose to publically serve in that future’s interest.
Harvard’s Institute of politics was established in 1966 as a living memorial to America’s youngest President, John F. Kennedy. With the Institute’s 50th Anniversary celebration less than 6 weeks away, this upcoming semester will be as much a commemoration of the IOP’s rich and storied past as well as reflection of what the future of politics might hold.