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Think Tank with a Soul

Opinion | October 5, 2010

Business-professional attire required. Pantsuits preferred. Stoic faces, tiny notebooks with silver pens surround a table. Is that a complementary tray of pastries in the corner, provided for today’s meeting? How lovely.

This might be the set-up of any other national think tank. Don’t be fooled, though; the Roosevelt Institute is nothing like your average DC organization.  Its members have good intentions, innovative ideas, and—YES—souls. What’s more, Roosevelt operates right on Tufts’ campus. All those posters you might have seen emblazoned with our former president’s visage promoted the first major event hosted by the Roosevelt Institute this semester, a policy-writing workshop, and the group is just getting started.

As the first national student-run think tank, the Roosevelt Institute helps students on 80 different campuses across the country take their activism to the next level. The organization takes a more direct approach to student initiative by incorporating their ideas into the actual policy-writing process. Through various training sessions, Roosevelt leaders teach thoughtful students how to develop solutions to pressing issues and subsequently write policy memos explaining the problem and proposing a solution.  These memos are often published in Roosevelt journals that circulate among members and nonmembers alike, and even presented to local groups to effect immediate change. The topics discussed run the gamut, from transportation reform in Boston to health care in Sudan. In other words, this ain’t your dad’s activism.

Being a part of Roosevelt means being connected to limitless resources and individuals that help transform proposed ideas into implementable solutions. Its office in Washington, DC, staffed by full-time policy directors, acts as a connection to the greater world of policy implementation. What’s more, the campus network itself is enough to impress. Eighty Roosevelt chapters allow a nationwide spread of likeminded students who are all looking to have a greater role in the policy-making process. Harvard University’s Roosevelt chapter hosted the annual Northeast Spring Regional Conference last spring, drawing bright minds from other states and other train stations. Tufts and many other northeastern universities attended the conference to listen to a mixture of professional and student panelists discuss topics ranging from healthcare to education to foreign diplomacy. With regular interactions among Roosevelt members, the transfer of knowledge between campuses intensifies, enriching students from all reaches of the country.

Just a year old, the Tufts chapter of the Roosevelt Institute has grown rapidly.   At the outset, the chapter was characterized by three policy centers: Defense and Diplomacy, Education, and Equal Justice. With even this modest array of topics, the chapter saw much success in its infancy; multiple members saw their work published, while others attended conferences like the aforementioned Harvard spring conference.

Roosevelt at Tufts has also expanded this year to add Healthcare and Energy and the Environment as policy centers. In addition to past endeavors, Roosevelt at Tufts will be hosting Think 2040 this year, a facilitated discussion that encourages students to propose what kind of world they would ideally like to see in the year 2040. Spearheading the campaign is sophomore Elias Kahan, who is looking to invite a wide range of student groups to send representatives to the discussion. Occurring in mid-October, Think 2040 will surely inspire constructive conversation about the future for the Millennial Generation.

It is so easy for students be overwhelmed, lose their sense of efficacy, and start wondering, what’s the point? Roosevelt at Tufts counters this by giving students the means to channel their innovative ideas into practical policies just waiting to be implemented. O