After virtual semester, KPU looks ahead
Looking back at a semester of high-profile speakers and successful student engagement
Like every other organization at American University, the Kennedy Political Union was forced to adapt to a virtual setting this semester. Despite that challenge, the organization hosted several high-profile speakers this year and remained engaged with the student body.
KPU hosted figures such as former Democratic presidential candidates Julián Castro and Andrew Yang, political activist Angela Davis, journalists Yamiche Alcindor and Bob Woodward, and White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Amrutha Chatty, the director of KPU, said that one challenge that presented itself this semester was keeping students engaged with Zoom.
“There’s just so much content online right now,” Chatty said. “Whether it’s in the AU community of different clubs doing different things, or the things that are in the political atmosphere taking up so much space in our social media, it’s been a challenge to try not to get lost.”
Chatty said that next semester’s programming will focus on what the future of politics holds, now that the 2020 election is over.
“We’re really excited to explore outside of the election space, but it’s also been a really great opportunity to be able to do programming during the election and bring in people who could give us more guidance on what was happening,” Chatty said.
Sophie Macaluso, a strategic communications specialist for KPU, said that events have been one way for students to engage beyond their classes.
“It’s a really cool thing to be able to get on to Zoom and not be in a class, but to be watching a discussion between a politician or someone else in politics,” Macaluso said.
Chatty said that a highlight of the semester was having Fauci speak in a discussion with President Sylvia Burwell. The event, which was part of the University’s Family Week, drew an audience of about 5,000 people, Chatty said.
“We just felt it was so important for people to hear facts [and] get a chance to ask questions about what’s going on, because it’s a scary time we’re living in and also just hear from somebody who is an expert who is fighting COVID on the ground,” Chatty said. “It was a really awesome opportunity.”
While KPU is a nonpartisan organization, the political speakers this semester have all been Democrats. Chatty said that expanding the political diversity of speakers is on the table for next semester.
“We want to make sure we’re operating in a space where students want to attend our events, but that we’re also having political diversity. So going into next semester, we’re definitely aware of spaces that we might not be representing the best,” she said.
The virtual setting allows KPU to bring in speakers that may not be able to come to campus during an in-person semester due to schedule conflicts and general logistical limitations. Chatty said that speakers have also reduced their fees for a virtual event, although she declined to say by how much. KPU had a budget of approximately $75,000 for the fall semester, according to Chatty.
For next semester, continuing to successfully engage with students virtually will remain a priority, she said.
“What’s difficult is finding people who have content that we want to hear virtually, that’s worth hearing virtually and about things that are happening in our current life that we want to be a part of,” Chatty said. “So it’s a little bit different. I wouldn’t say it’s easier or harder, but it’s a completely different operation.”