Meet Our Majors

Meet some of our politics majors.

 

Emily Jo Wharry ’20

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Majors: politics, history

What was your motivation to major in politics?

I arrived at Oxy with a handful of potential majors in mind, but soon discovered that, of everything offered in the course catalogue, politics courses excited me most. Plus, my first semester in college overlapped with the 2016 elections, and the combination of taking Professor Caroline Heldman’s “American Politics and Public Policy” course while simultaneously witnessing the most turbulent election in recent history made me realize just how much I care about political engagement. Because of the spark that class gave me, I signed up for local phone banking efforts off campus, and later, I jumped into a car with a classmate to drive to Phoenix, Arizona to canvass neighborhoods during Get Out the Vote weekend. I’ve found that politics professors really encourage and support you in breaking out of academia to get on-the-ground experience, which makes your classroom lessons that much more enriching and meaningful.

Can you describe your working relationships with politics professors? Any standout classes you’ve taken?

To me, the politics professors are the heart of the department. From “Introduction to Political Theory” with Professor Ainsley LeSure to “Race and American Politics” with Professor Regina Freer, every single professor has challenged me to reexamine my beliefs, push beyond my comfort zone and articulate a viewpoint in a well-grounded, thoughtful way. Even more, the professors care deeply about your learning experience, and that shows in every office hours meeting and piece of detailed assignment feedback they hand back. My favorite course was Professor Thalia González’s “Civil Rights and Civil Liberties,” a constitutional law class taught in a seminar style similar to the kind you’d encounter in law school. We held oral arguments debating historically contentious Supreme Court cases and drafted responses to hypotheticals, and it was by far the most demanding—and rewarding—course I’ve taken.

Have you taken part in any student research opportunities at Oxy?

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to work with Professor González for two years on various restorative justice projects, which have involved a whole host of experiences: collecting and interpreting survey data, designing and leading training sessions on dialogue facilitation, and co-presenting at conferences. I first enrolled in her “Restorative Justice” course the spring of my sophomore year having no idea what the term even meant, and I ended up discovering a passion for learning about a justice paradigm that is very different from our traditional, punitive one. This semester, I helped out as the teaching assistant in a redesigned version of that same course, and it’s been immensely rewarding to return to the course as an upperclassman in a totally different capacity and with a new set of responsibilities. My senior comps project will examine the implementation of restorative justice into sexual misconduct policies at various colleges and universities across the United States.

What do you find most compelling about studying politics?

Politics is compelling because it’s applicable in so many aspects of everyday life. You’re not simply learning about the three branches of government or demographic voting patterns, you’re untangling the complexities that create, maintain, or upend systems of power. Those insights apply everywhere—local grassroots organizing efforts, the bureaucracy of private corporations—just as well as they apply to national politics. I also think there’s an element of empowerment to learning about politics. The more informed you are in the history and workings of government, the harder it is for others to take advantage of you or endanger your rights, and the easier it is for you to advocate for positive change in the issues and communities you care most about.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy and how has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

I’m contemplating pursuing a job in publishing or restorative justice. I found those interests because, to the benefit of its students, Oxy’s liberal arts model isn’t just an investment in academic breadth, but also in breadth outside the classroom. Besides my coursework, I’ve been able to take advantage of internship opportunities at a nonprofit and a publishing house, as well as extracurriculars such as writing for the campus newspaper. The fusion of these hands-on experiences with my politics courses has been invaluable in showing me just how many different paths one can take to enact political change.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in politics?

Don’t be intimidated, talk to the professors! There are so many subfields within politics that you can pursue, and you have everything to gain and nothing to lose by brainstorming with someone who is familiar with your areas of interest. And when course registration rolls around, fret less over the overarching major and select courses with beloved professors whose course topics engage your passions and pique your curiosity. Most of all, let go of the fear of failure, because the courses that demand the most of you are the ones that stay with you long after graduation.

 


 

Teagan Langseth-DePaolis ’21

Hometown: Portland, OR
Major: politics; minor: Critical Theory and Social Justice

What was your motivation to major in politics?

Coming into Oxy, the politics program was appealing to me. In addition to my curiosity about exploring politics courses at a school that is so politically engaged and social justice-oriented, the fact that it wasn’t a typical “political science” major really intrigued me. My inspirational moment within the department came during my second semester at Oxy, when taking Professor Jennifer Piscopo’s “Gender and Politics in the Global South” class. The course opened my eyes to the dimensionality and diversity within the politics major, and to the fact that I could study everything that I was interested in—gender, policy and advocacy—in one class!

Can you describe your working relationships with politics professors? Any standout classes you’ve taken?

I fundamentally believe that what makes the politics major at Oxy so incredible is our faculty. The professors in this department are truly some of the most helpful, collaborative and receptive people I have ever encountered. I know that any time I have a question or concern about schoolwork or a broader political/societal inquiry, I can find a solution in the politics suite with one of our faculty members—whether or not they’ve had me as a student. I have been lucky enough to establish close personal and professional relationships with both Professor Piscopo and Professor Thalia Gonzalez.

Two of my absolute favorite courses were “Gender and Politics in the Global South” and “Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.” Both were rigorous, engaging and helped me gain a better understanding of the different elements of politics and law that I want to pursue later in life. Specifically, in Professor Gonzalez’s “Civil Rights and Civil Liberties” course, I was nose-deep in the largest constitutional law textbook I have ever seen, and I could not have been happier all semester. The course material and assessments were thoroughly enjoyable and I genuinely felt that I learned something new and important about our judicial system every single day.

Have you taken part in any student research opportunities at Oxy or elsewhere? 

I have had the incredible opportunity to work with Professor Piscopo doing research for the past year and a half, in addition to working with Professor Gonzalez on a short research project this past summer. I would strongly recommend that politics majors take advantage of research opportunities—what’s better than being able to collaborate professionally with your favorite professors while getting to research and analyze interesting political material?

Did you study abroad? How did it complement and/or enhance your education?

This fall, I studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland through an SIT program called Global Health and Development Policy. Its tailored focus on global health and contemporary policy issues enhanced my politics education by offering me a deeper insight into how global health is tackled on an international scale through humanitarian action and aid, as well as policy implementation. Additionally, this program offered great research opportunities, wherein each of us had to conduct primary research on a topic of our choosing. Doing a semester abroad offers opportunities that one simply cannot access in the States. I would highly recommend choosing a program based on the content of the program rather than the country in which it is based.

What do you find most compelling about studying politics?

What I find most compelling about studying politics is the diversity of topics within the department. Occidental’s politics department does a fantastic job of cultivating a holistic politics education—weaving together political theory with contemporary political issues, policy and substantive data collection. I constantly feel that I am being challenged to think in new and sophisticated ways about issues brought up in my coursework, and I have never been disappointed by a class in this department.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy and how has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

After Oxy, I hope to attend law school and go on to a career in legal representation for an NGO or other social justice-oriented organizations, working with reproductive justice and women’s rights. I believe that my liberal arts education has equipped me to tackle these ambitions by stressing the importance of intersectional approaches to learning. The variety of courses offered both within the politics department and by Oxy more broadly has opened my mind to concepts that I never would have considered in terms of how they relate to politics and policy. For example, taking a geology class in conjunction with an environment-related politics course granted me a more in-depth understanding of the specific types of policies that need to be crafted in relation to climate change. I really feel that the politics major has equipped me with relevant theoretical and substantive skills to allow me to engage in political discussions, and it has given me so much confidence to move ahead toward a career in law and policy.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in politics?

Build connections with your professors right away. I know this is mentioned frequently, but the relationships you have with your professors will open your mind and benefit you in ways that you might not even imagine. Also, take courses that challenge you! Just because you are a first-year or second-year doesn’t mean you can’t hold your own in upper-level courses. If you are interested in the content of the course, go for it! Also, take advantage of the politics suite as a study environment—it’s usually fairly quiet and you get to meet and interact with students and faculty in the department.

 


 

Carson Malbrough ’18

How did you choose your major?

I came into Oxy thinking I would major in physics and I ended up changing my mind during my first semester. By sophomore year, I had declared a politics major. I chose to study politics because I was interested in the intersections between people-powered social movements, public policy and how government ultimately responds to the people. My personal lived experiences and those of my immediate family members have also been driving forces in my education. The politics major allowed me to study the legal implications of these social movements. I credit Oxy's Campaign Semester for providing me with the opportunity to work on my first political campaign in 2016, which set me on my current path.

One quote that has guided me is, “The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” Politics provides a voice for folks who don’t otherwise have one and creates an opportunity for communities that are burdened with structural problems to start fixing them. I am in this fight for life and as an advocate, I will always be motivated by the desire to find solutions that make communities more equitable and fair. Even when this field of work is challenging, I ask myself, ‘If I don’t continue fighting, who will?’

What were the most important skills you learned at Oxy? How did a liberal arts education help shape you?

The two main things that Oxy taught me were respect for all people and critical thinking. Oxy is a school that prides itself on diversity, particularly diversity of ethnicities, religions, genders and countries of origin. Growing up in Los Angeles, a global city, I knew what it was like to be exposed to diversity from a young age but Oxy provides a space for folks to expand on their identities in ways that can alter your entire worldview. There were definitely ups and downs, arguments and confrontations, but that's the beautiful part of a space like Oxy.

I learned not only to accept my fellow students and community members, but then do what I could to learn more about their plight and how intersectionality and privilege impact different people in different ways. My experience at Oxy helped me become much more accepting, compassionate and respectful of women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities and immigrants. Critical thinking is another big takeaway from Oxy because, both academically and in social settings, you learn to synthesize information and look at things beyond their face value. I learned how to listen better, analyze an issue from multiple angles, and be mindful of the pros and cons of different issues.

How did your academic department guide you at Oxy?

I give a lot of credit to Professors Regina Freer, Peter Dreier and Ainsley LeSure, and really the entire politics department. Professor Dreier was my adviser and also oversaw the Campaign Semester program with Professor Freer, and I've learned so much from them. Professor LeSure was my senior comps advisor and was always pushing me to do the best I could on my comps research, so I learned a lot from her too.

What are your future plans?

I’m planning to attend law school. I have some experience in political organizing and campaigns and I think getting a legal education will enable me to further my advocacy even more. I am passionate about social justice, economic justice and environmental justice, and so far I've channeled that passion into campaigning and community organizing. Once I finish law school, I plan to continue working around the issues I care most about in a legal framework. My goal is to work for a legal advocacy organization, perhaps focusing on civil rights, environmental issues or housing issues.

Read Carson’s Oxy Story to hear about his career path since graduation.

 


 

Ahladini Veerina ’20

Hometown: Los Altos Hills, CA
Majors: politics, sociology

What was your motivation to major in politics?

One of the main reasons I am majoring in politics is because it goes really well with my other major, sociology. My first and second years at Oxy I got really interested in sociology and quickly found that it had a lot of overlap with politics—the two disciplines work together in so many ways. In sociology, we focus on exploring social structures, institutions and interactions as well as deconstructing how social issues operate within and across these areas of our lives. In politics, we focus on how a deep understanding of social issues can help us create and implement changes that can help our communities. Politics acts as a natural extension of my studies in sociology, allowing me to translate my passion (and often frustration) around social injustices into concrete, actionable measures.

Can you describe your senior comps project?

For my senior comps project, I am going to be considering and attempting to expand the concept of “racial triangulation,” a term that was coined by political scientist Claire Jean Kim. Racial triangulation refers to the positioning of Black, White and Asian populations in the United States based on two dimensions: relative valorization (how much/whether individuals of this group are valued in society) and civic ostracism (how much/whether individuals of this group are considered insiders versus outsiders). My project will explore how the Latinx population (one of the largest and fastest growing groups in the U.S.) fits into this framework by tracing the historical development of Latinx as a racial group and then using court cases and legislation from a particular U.S. state to hypothesize their positioning.

What do you find most compelling about studying politics?

The focus on translating concepts and ideas into practical actions is a huge draw for me. At the same time, we engage in a continuous process of self-reflection about the feasibility, efficacy and other dimensions of movements for change. This pushes us to really stretch when it comes to thinking about whether various movements or initiatives have created or will create the real lasting changes we want to see.

What are your ambitions post-Oxy and how has the liberal arts approach helped to shape these ambitions?

Right now, I think I would like to work in the field of education—whether that means in a more hands-on setting (teaching) or more of a policy/advocacy setting (public interest law). Reflecting on my time at Oxy, I have found that in some way all the classes I have taken and the activities I have engaged in outside of class have led me back to my passion for working with young people and education. The liberal arts approach was important because it allowed me (and sometimes forced me) to take classes I might not have otherwise considered and to think and learn in new and different ways. Across disciplines, all of my classes have emphasized the importance of critically thinking about what you are studying or working on. Digging deeper and not taking things at face value has certainly helped me become a more thoughtful person overall, regardless of the field of study or type of work I pursue in the future.

Do you have any advice for a student considering a major in politics?

Stay passionate and fight for your community! Politics can be a daunting and sometimes discouraging area of study, but remember there are so many people like you who are working and fighting for change. Be critical and committed, but also be open to hearing and trying to understand other perspectives. Don’t be afraid of being wrong! And try to have fun with it.

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