Students disappointed in WONK of the Year choice
Students have expressed mixed sentiments since The Kennedy Political Union and University Communications announced former first lady Laura Bush as the recipient of Wonk of the Year on Feb. 23.
Despite Bush’s political contributions, some students doubt her relevance to current events and to the University’s age and social demographics, Hannah Ross, a sophomore in the School of Communication, said.
“Laura Bush may have made contributions in the past, but in the context of relevant or timely current social or political events, she has not been present,” Ross said.
KPU and AU Communications recognize Laura Bush as Wonk of the Year because of her education, health and human rights advocacy efforts according to Tyler Bowders, the director of KPU.
“Her use of the office of First Lady, humanitarianism, as well as her longevity in multiple areas of work was the driving force behind her selection as the Wonk of the Year,” Bowders said in an email.
Jose Mejia, a junior in the School of International Service, said that Laura Bush’s work was not of the same quality as other recipients in the past but disagrees with those who believe Bush is inevitably bad because of her husband.
“Laura Bush’s body of work is not on par with many of the other people who have been given that award like Anderson Cooper or Bill Clinton,” Mejia said. “The sentiment I do not share, that many of peers are espousing, is that Mrs. Bush’s last name automatically negates her achievements as First Lady or her unique viewpoint of being side by side with her husband.”
Tatiana Laing, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and co chair of the Ethnic and Cultural Coalition for Student Government, said she contacted KPU and AU Communications over the summer asking for a person of color to be recognized this year.
“Both KPU and the administration were aware that I and many other students wanted a person of color for the KPU Wonk of the Year,” Laing said.
Approximately 100 student requests for the Wonk of the Year were submitted and recognized in the selection process, but those who made it into the final selection did not have availability in the spring of 2015, according to Bowders.
AU Communications and KPU established the Wonk of the Year in 2012. The distinction is given to a public figure who embodies the characteristics of a wonk—someone who is a conscious, global citizen, according to AU’s description of the award.
AU College Republican President Nicholas Hunt, a proponent of the Laura Bush Wonk of the Year decision, said he feels that republican views are often dismissed at AU. The invitation to speak at campus offers a precedent to Republican opinions, according to Hunt.
“We are a campus based around the principle of diversity and inclusion, however when it comes to political identity, those terms seem not to apply. Republicans at American are consistently marginalized by faculty and students alike,” Hunt said. “By bringing a speaker of Mrs. Bush’s stature, I fully believe she will be able to be the voice of silenced Republicans at American University and convey the values and ideal the Republican Party stands for.”
Selection of Laura Bush concerned other student organizations who have felt ignored or disenfranchised by the university.
Following student efforts to teach about privilege and race on campus, and the AU administration’s commitment to help, the decision to select Laura Bush as a representative of the year’s expert and impassioned person came as a setback, Laing said.
“I wanted AU to recognize that people of color can be experts, can give back to the community and are deserving of the title,” Laing said. “By not choosing a person of color, it isn't automatically a disappointment to me, but by choosing someone so irrelevant over a person of color, that's just insulting.”