Building Affinities, Building a Future

Michael Tubbs is the first black mayor of Stockton, California. At age 26, after receiving two degrees from Stanford University and serving a term on Stockton Council District 6, he is also the youngest person ever to hold that office. Fortunately for students at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, he is also the speaker at the inaugural Young Policy Leaders event on Friday, February 24, sponsored by Harris Public Policy and Minorities in Public Policy Studies (MiPPS).

“Everyone is really excited to see him. He’s had a lot of experience and he is going to talk about all the ups and downs of his campaign and everything that went into it,” explained second-year MPP student and MiPPS board member Michael Harvey. “This is really going to give students an opportunity to hear from someone who is like them in many ways, someone who is interested in change like they are.”

The Tubbs talk is just one of the many thought provoking events MiPPS puts on every year to explore the academic, social and cultural aspects of policy throughout the country and to raise awareness about issues related to minority students at Harris and the community at large.    The student organization is the descendent of two previous minority student associations, the first of which was started in 1992 to represent students of diverse backgrounds, including those of African, Latin, Asian and Native American descent. That group worked to build an affinity among students of different backgrounds so that they could meet and share their thoughts on common issues. Its goal was solidarity and peer support.

Four years later, the second iteration of the association was founded, the Black Policy Forum, which focused not only on policy but on the professional prospects for students with minority backgrounds. Today MiPPS, which also hosts social events, is still strongly engaged in policy and professional issues.  In the fall of this year, MiPPS held a student discussion that examined the current state of diversity, both inside and outside of Harris. “It was really valuable to see all the differing views of what having a diverse student body means, and it opened up a way for students to talk about their ideas for the rest of the school year,” Harvey said.

This first Young Policy Leaders event meshes perfectly with the MiPPS mission. The series, which will bring exceptional young leaders under 40 to campus to discuss their work, challenges and lives, will include individuals from the government, non-profit and private sectors with a variety of achievements and visions. And Mayor Tubbs is an ideal representative of the series goals. As Tubbs put it, right after his election, “I’m interested in talking about where we’re going. We have to mature as a community and start demanding solutions.”

Harvey, whose concentration is in urban development policy, is one of the four board members who run MiPPS this year. “It was an important student organization for my first year at Harris. As an African American male, it is important for me to think about the issues that face the African American community. If I am going to be in a position to be a leader, I need to think about ways that policy can inform and impact the community I come from,” Harvey noted.

Using a committee-style approach to leadership, they not only plan events, they also evaluate applications from members for positions on the board. Right now, approximately 15 current Harris students are involved in MiPPS, along with about 50 alumni. But while the organization itself has minority in its name, there are no specific parameters for membership.

“As an organization that thinks about diversity we want to be really inclusive, both in membership and in the way we structure our offerings. We don’t want to make it hard to be involved, we want to help build community, to think about minorities and to create alliances with other student groups that have different affinities,” Harvey added. 

--Robin Mordfin