Trailblazing Teacher: Political Pioneer Donna Brazile Hopes to Inspire Young Women to Enter Politics and Incite Change

By Watson, Jamal Eric | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, April 24, 2014 | Go to article overview

Trailblazing Teacher: Political Pioneer Donna Brazile Hopes to Inspire Young Women to Enter Politics and Incite Change


Watson, Jamal Eric, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


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WASHINGTON -- It's a Wednesday afternoon at Georgetown University and Donna Brazile is interrogating her students about the latest political happenings in the news. The conversation abruptly shifts to whether Hillary Clinton might run for president in 2016.

"We all know that Hillary is in the process of writing her memoirs of her years in the State Department, but that has not stopped the news media from trying to figure out what else she might be up to," Brazile quips with a cynical smirk. "So, of course, every week we get treated to what I call 'Clinton du jour.'"

The students laugh in unison.

This up-and-close encounter with one of the nation's most prominent political strategists and television pundits is why they've enrolled in her "Women in American Politics" class in the first place.

Since 2002, Brazile has taught the popular course, where it is cross-listed with the Women's and Gender Studies program and the Department of Government, at the Jesuit institution.

For Brazile, who managed Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign and has served as an advisor to countless other congressional races across the country, teaching isn't simply about telling old war stories from the campaign trail (although she has plenty to share with her students, many of whom want to run for political office someday).

On this particular day, she's giving her 29 students a brief overview of how women in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have accrued political power by positioning themselves on key congressional committees.

She then moves into a spirited discussion about the second wave of feminism and the campaign for the Equal Rights Amendment, pointing out that six states--Iowa, Delaware, Nebraska, Vermont, North Dakota and Alaska--have yet to elect a woman to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Students say that her course is a rigorous examination of the history of women in the political process and the hard-fought battles they've had to wage over many decades, including an in-depth look at how the media have scrutinized women candidates running for office.

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From time to time, Brazile brings in other well-known women strategists, like Ann Lewis, Bay Buchanan and Ana Navarro, and reveals personal anecdotes about her time working as a young staffer for the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm or as an aide on the Rev. Jesse L. Jacksons 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns.

"I find teaching to be one of the most important things I do every week with my life," says Brazile, who just celebrated her 20th year as an adjunct professor. "It's a calling; it's a service; it's an opportunity to learn so much from my students. I can talk about the campaigns I've worked on, the women candidates that I've helped to get elected to office, but I can also learn from my students."

The New Orleans native, who makes regular appearances on CNN and ABC News as a political analyst, began teaching part time at the University of Maryland in 1993 while working as chief of staff and press secretary to Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat from D.C.

"For me, that was such a key moment in my life, because every Tuesday night, I would leave Capitol Hill at 6:00 p.m. and my class was from 7 to 10 p.m.," recalls Brazile in an interview with Diverse. "I absolutely loved it."

When Gore named Brazile his campaign manager in September 1999 and headquartered his campaign office in Nashville, Tenn. …

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