SEGL Program Offers Unique Opportunities For Political Engagement And Education
For an entire semester, I lived three blocks east of the U.S. Capitol Building. On my way to school, I’d walk across the street to the Supreme Court of the United States. As I would approach Union Station, I’d run into Luther Strange, Senator Emeritus from Alabama, on his way to work. And when I’d get off the metro, I’d grab coffee and walk past the embassies of Botswana, Mozambique, and Argentina before arriving at school. Once at school, I might present a speech on the allocation of funds for hurricane relief to former Clinton speechwriters, meet with the CEO of the Obama Foundation, or visit Fox News to watch Tucker Carlson tape his show. I’d top off the week by presenting a policy document I co-authored on deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest to the Peruvian Embassy and the Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Conservation and Water. These experiences in the so called “swamp” drastically changed my perspective on Washington: some reignited my hope for America, while others fueled my drive to improve the status-quo. But the School for Ethics and Global Leadership (SEGL), the program that provided me these opportunities, was not a politics bootcamp. And many of the most impactful moments had less to do with the public policy workshops and case studies than they did the other students.
At SEGL, I lived with twenty four students from disparate parts of the country, ranging from Glasgow (KY) to Newark (NJ). Each student had a unique background, but we all had one thing in common: we wanted to be there. Our community was self-selected and very small. We all bought into the program, which demanded an equal and unwavering commitment to learning from each other and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Each member took part in intentionally crafting our semester to be one of shared trust and vulnerability. And through the residential and academic curriculums, students and faculty alike changed each other’s perspectives.
In examining leadership decisions of others, we would begin examining our own daily choices. We would constantly ask, “is this right?” And each decision I make is informed by what I’ve learned through these people, which has helped define my personal, political, and ethical views. At SEGL, I met Nejat. We attended a talk at The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on the technological advancements of Israel. Being Jewish, the granddaughter of an ardent Zionist, and from a generally pro-Israel country and local community, I was inspired and excited. Nejat, Muslim, Ethiopian, and the daughter of ardent pro-Palestine immigrants, was skeptical. When we realized our drastically different perspectives and emotional ties to different, contentious sides, Nejat suggested we research the conflict. Together, we came to a more centrist perspective. We realized the commonalities of each group’s endeavour to reside in a historical, biblical homeland. But most importantly, I learned how two divergent perspectives can synthesize, giving way to productive and innovative solutions without animosity. I learned that ethical leadership begins with daily ethical decision making. And for each ethical decision made, someone is affected, someone’s mind is changed, like mine was when I met Nejat.