Campus & Community

Students drive political engagement through DU chapter of the Roosevelt Institute

"I started Roosevelt because I saw it as a way to engage young people’s voices in our local community where we can really have an impact," says Morgan Smith. Courtesy photo

“I started Roosevelt because I saw it as a way to engage young people’s voices in our local community where we can really have an impact,” says Morgan Smith. Courtesy photo

Instead of waiting to find a place at the University of Denver, Morgan Smith quickly created his own. Smith, now a sophomore majoring in public policy and economics, began to form DU’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute — a New York-based nonpartisan political think tank — the summer after his freshman year. Members of the group identify problems at the student, university and national levels, then advocate for changes in policy.

“A lot of our work is at a local level because of the influence that we, as college students, can have,” Smith says. “The Roosevelt model is to find community-oriented solutions to larger problems. If we can identify a local issue and come up with a solution, we can use that model to come up with solutions to problems that are happening around the country, or even the world.”

Launched in fall 2015, DU’s Roosevelt chapter focuses on everything from homelessness to the rising cost of college. As president of the DU chapter, Smith facilitates weekly meetings, strategizes with the leadership team, coordinates events and guides policy. All 30 Roosevelt members are currently working on financial transparency policies that are specific to DU.

“Although there is limited faculty involvement, we are directly tied with the Institute for Public Policy Studies,” Smith says. “We work consistently with DU Democrats and DU College Republicans to host political events, and we also work with many other organizations, including the Black Student Alliance.”

Along with his duties as president, Smith collaborates with local government officials to get college students involved in the process of policy making.

Smith and Roosevelt chapter vice president Kieran Doyle — a sophomore majoring in international studies and French — worked over the summer to establish contacts with state representatives, senators and nonprofits. Roosevelt has partnered with more than 30 community leaders and elected officials, including the offices of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper; U.S. senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner; and U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver. The DU group also has made connections with nonprofits such as the Bell Policy Center, Conservation Colorado and Common Cause.

For a February event titled “Beyond the Voting Booth: Engaging Youth in Change,” the chapter hosted more than a dozen elected officials on DU’s campus to help highlight the top priorities for Colorado in 2016. In attendance were state representatives, state senators and Denver city council members who came together to discuss education reform, the economy and equal justice issues at a state level.

“It was a fantastic event,” Smith says. “The elected officials were really impressed not only with Roosevelt, but with all the DU students in attendance and the ideas that we brought to the table.”

Since the February event, DU’s Roosevelt chapter has capitalized on its relationships with those elected officials and has gotten students up to the state capitol to help research data and testify on bills.

The Roosevelt Institute is founded on the philosophy that young people are crucial to the political process. Consequently, the institute has created the Next Generation Blueprint for 2016, a nationally crowd-sourced document that stresses the importance of getting youth involved in politics. Members of DU’s Roosevelt chapter have been part of the data-gathering process, as well as efforts to persuade elected officials to fill out a pledge form that signifies their commitment to engaging young people in the political process.

“We figure that college students don’t know everything and may be disenchanted with the political system as well,” Smith says. “However, I don’t think that in any way college students are disengaged. We are all passionate about the issues, and we want to be involved; we just don’t know how best to be. Through Roosevelt, we establish partnerships and channels with officials so that students at DU can have their voices heard.”

There are Roosevelt chapters in 40 states across the country, allowing the institute to become a large network. DU’s Roosevelt chapter is the only one in Colorado, but with Smith pioneering the path, a CU Boulder chapter is on the drawing board. Smith will act as an advisor for the new chapter, as well as help CU plan its recruitment strategies for next fall.

The inception of this new chapter will foster statewide connections, something that will be beneficial to DU’s Roosevelt chapter when election season approaches this fall.

“I believe that people are really good at doing things,” Smith says. “They can get things done if they know how and when to do them, and if they are passionate about them. I started Roosevelt because I saw it as a way to engage young people’s voices in our local community where we can really have an impact. DU is a vibrant and active campus, and our student body is passionate about so many issues. Roosevelt is a way to harness that energy and put it toward meaningful change.”






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