KPU will not host Wonk of the Year in spring semester

Director Valeria Ojeda-Avitia blames cancellation on lack of available large campus venues

KPU will not host Wonk of the Year in spring semester

Donna Brazile speaks to the audience gathered at the 2016 Wonk of the Year event in Bender Arena last April. The Kennedy Political Union will not host a Wonk of the Year speaker this spring. 

The Kennedy Political Union will not host a Wonk of the Year speaker this semester due to scheduling difficulties with Bender Arena and the previously selected speaker, KPU director Valeria Ojeda-Avitia said on April 12.

Ojeda-Avitia pointed to the lack of campus venues that can hold at least 500 people as a reason for the cancellation of the event, which she said was originally set for April 10. Ojeda-Avitia would not release the name or field of the intended speaker, who was not paid a fee.

“We were looking everywhere to host Wonk of the Year because it didn’t align where the Bender dates would work with the speaker,” Ojeda-Avitia said. “If we could bring a Wonk of the Year and 500 people could attend, at a minimum, that is worth it. I’m not going to host Wonk of the Year in, like, MGC [Mary Graydon Center] 2-5, where 300 people attend.”

Created in 2012, the Wonk of the Year award is offered by AU and KPU to “a well-known individual who represents the embodiment of a wonk” and creates “meaningful change in the world,” according to the University website. Past recipients include former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Laura Bush and former interim Democratic National Committee chair Donna Brazile, who took home the award in 2016.

Teresa Flannery, who works with KPU to plan the event as the University’s vice president for communications, confirmed that there would not be a Wonk of the Year event in April due to the Bender Arena dates not matching the speaker’s availability. She said the University is not bound to offer the award at any particular time.

“The date is driven by the availability of the speaker, and we have held the event at various times of the year, including in spring and fall semesters,” Flannery said in an email.

This is not the first time the Wonk of the Year event has shifted to a different semester. After Anderson Cooper was given the award in October 2013, KPU moved the event to the spring semester of 2015. Ojeda-Avitia said a similar move is possible for the 2017 Wonk of the Year recipient. If a Wonk of the Year speaker is brought to campus in the fall semester, the event will likely be paid for using the funds originally allocated for the spring event, Ojeda-Avitia said.

“All that I care about is that in [2017], there is a speaker,” Ojeda-Avitia said. “I was pushing so hard for this person, and I hope that AU does end up getting them to speak in the next school year. I can’t speak for the next KPU director or the next VP [student government vice president], but I hope that’s a priority of theirs.”

Administrators will consult with incoming student government leaders and the new KPU director to ascertain their preferences in terms of date and speaker, Flannery said. The KPU director for the 2017-2018 school year has not yet been announced by Solomon Self, the newly elected student government vice president.

“The candidate we were considering certainly remains an excellent choice, but we will give the student leadership the opportunity to consider alternatives, if they so desire,” Flannery said.

The lack of a campus auditorium has been a consistent roadblock for KPU during Ojeda-Avitia’s two year tenure. She cited a 2016 event with Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors in MGC 2-5 that attracted an overflowing crowd.

“That’s been an issue with speakers all the time,” Ojeda-Avitia said. “Space is limited, and you limit access to great speakers and it’s unfair.”

She has taken up the problem with Doug Kudravetz, the University’s treasurer, and is making plans with former KPU director Chandler Thornton to build an alumni advisory board for KPU and the Student Union Board to help students advocate for larger campus venues.

“What I’ve been really trying to focus on KPU being a model of is the Institute of Politics at Harvard, and they have a JFK Auditorium which is specifically for speakers,” Ojeda-Avitia said. “I want speakers to be a community event, not necessarily like, ‘Oh, SIS got this speaker, SOC got this speaker.’ I want students to be like, ‘AU brought this speaker.’”

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