Students found discussion-based politics group
The DP sat down with the two co-founders of the Penn Government and Politics Association
September 25, 2013, 10:53 pm · Updated September 25, 2013, 11:39 pm·
Last year, College sophomores Varun Menon and Louis Capozzi founded the University of Pennsylvania Government and Politics Association, better known as Penn GPA — a nonpartisan discussion-based politics organization. The group, which does not receive funding from the Student Activities Council, has already brought a number of eminent speakers to campus and launched its own politics blog, The Spectrum.
The Daily Pennsylvanian recently had the chance to sit down with Menon and Capozzi to discuss the origins and future of Penn GPA.
The Daily Pennsylanian: You’re both history majors, not political science majors. Obviously, you both have a passion for political science, and I know you [Menon] want to go to medical school. How did the idea for the GPA come up?
Menon: Politics — as I was saying earlier to somebody — is something that touches many parts of our lives. It’s something where I would challenge anyone to find something where politics doesn’t touch light. For us, founding GPA was something that was going to allow not only us to take advantage and learn about the political system and leadership. It was going to help other people do that, too.
Capozzi: I study history not because I’m terribly concerned with the past, but more so because I do care about the present … As to why the GPA was founded, I think Varun and I both have unique perspectives here at Penn, and that helped us see gaps. The political discourse at the university was not — and still is not — balanced. It’s not reflective of the wider country. Of course the liberal democratic party perspective is mostly dominant here and we found that there were a lot of voices — not just conservative voices, but also libertarian, socialist, foreign, anarchist, communist voices — that did not have a place where they could be heard. GPA was founded as a forum as for everyone to have a say and also as a more intellectual emphasis on politics.
DP: How did you manage to get from where you started to where you’re at right now in such a relatively short period of time?
C: I can tackle that! So there are two main ideas that are really attractive to the student body. The first is the idea of a balanced and meaningful discourse. A lot of the people who have gotten involved with GPA have untraditional or unorthodox political views…The second big thing, I would say, is the combination of intellectualism and fun .As silly as this sounds, those two really aren’t brought together. And of course you’ve got the classroom — Penn’s got really good academics. And you’ve got the frat houses — Penn’s got a good party life. But very rarely do the two come together. And we’ve had and had events series we call the symposia … No matter how poor of a job we did in a given week, we always had good attendance at the symposia. And now we cap the attendance at 30 because if we don’t we’ll have upwards of 50 coming to these events, and these are supposed to be small, intimate discussions.
M: Yes, that was the symposia model, and that’s one aspect of GPA. Another thing that people really enjoy is the fact that our public events, the events that we do open up to everybody, go outside the mainstream political view … So we try to find issues that are underrepresented and perspectives of groups that are underrepresented. For instance, there was the [U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta event last semester]. Barletta is one of the biggest proponents immigration reform as it currently stands in the House. We made sure Penn for Immigrant Rights was there to represent that perspective. They debated heavily against that Congressman.
DP:Why do you find the need to have so many branches within the GPA and how do they all fit together?
C: The central core idea of the GPA is conducting events and providing opportunities that allow for the creation of a more perfect political citizen. Now what do we mean by a “political citizen”? A political citizen has many components. We believe that a political citizen should have a knowledge of the lawmaking process. Hence our Youth and Government department. We believe that he should have an awareness of international issues. Hence our United Nations and Advocacy group. We believe that they should have the opportunity to write and exchange ideas through a publishing medium. Hence The Spectrum [Penn GPA’s politics blog].
M: And [the branches] go together because they all feed off one another. We don’t just stop with an intellectual conversation about politics. We try to get students involved in getting into the next step. And I wouldn’t even say it is a political citizen, but rather a citizen. A citizen needs to know what is really going on in their world, to really and truly be an active person who can be depended on for the democracy.
DP: What is on the GPA’s radar coming up? What do you hope to see it become?
M: Coming up this semester, we are hosting Gov. James Florio — former governor of New Jersey — on October 16.
C: We have executive vice-president of 1199C, the biggest union in Philadelphia, for a rare discussion of labor issues. I was telling you about the debate we have on the Constitution on October 2. That combined with professor panels, community service events and symposia.
M: In terms of some of the other departments, [our community service branch] has been helping out West Philadelphia high schools with their youth and government programs and model UN programs, teaching them civic literacy and getting them involved in leadership and how the democratic process works. And we’re starting with the soup kitchen and we’re looking into doing something with [the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania]. In the youth and government department, we’ve been hosting congressional debates. We’ll be sending a delegation to the national assembly of College Youth in Government in North Carolina to represent the University.
C: Where would we like to be? We would like GPA to be seen as the middle of political discourse. We want people of all political perspectives, no matter what side of the political spectrum or what country they are from, to be comfortable at our events. To know that their voice can be heard, And just to have a consistent and creative line of events that they can go two.
M: And we want to be able able to collaborate with many different student groups, especially these political groups, to put on large meaningful events for the community … Like we were saying, we want to build citizens and leaders for the future, and that starts by changing first and foremost the American psyche in politics today, which is, as Louis keeps emphasizing, moderation and acceptance in political ideologies.
C: GPA emphasizes a very tolerant and all-encompassing political discourse.
M: Tolerance, yes. That’s a very great way to put it.
C: All perspectives are welcome here!