Poli-Sci for the Non-Politically-Minded

By: Elana Luban  |  May 15, 2019

By, Elana Luban

When I was eighteen, you may have caught me making statements along the lines of: “I stay out of politics,” or “ I’m just not a politically-minded person.” Most of us, whether through Twitter, Buzzfeed articles, or discussions with friends, eventually learn that it’s not entirely fair to claim you “completely stay out of politics;” it takes a certain amount of privilege to remain on the sidelines. If policies being made don’t directly affect you, you probably have multiple safety nets (financial or otherwise) protecting you from their long-reaching effects — and not everyone is that fortunate.

YU has been incredibly instrumental in increasing my political awareness and involvement. I would even assert this despite the cynical yet popular opinion that this university is a bubble in which students can hide from the country’s (and world’s) political tumult, if they so choose. My argument against that notion would be that the same thing can be said for any university with on-campus living, or where much of the student body is middle or upper-class. Additionally, our college years in particular are often a period of political and idealistic exploration — no matter how much of a “bubble” YU might be for some, those passionate about involvement will find opportunities to get involved.

As a direct result of friends who challenged my views, along with many horizon-broadening experiences, I’m lucky to say I’ve gradually become more politically aware and active. From joining the Feminist Club board, to spending a summer at a Jewish feminist internship at Brandeis, to joining the board of the Jewish Activism Club at the beginning of this year, I’d like to think I’ve gotten increasingly politically-savvy over the last several years. Still, my areas of expertise had been limited to US politics, and even more narrowly, were restricted to issues that were personally relevant to me as a Jewish woman living on the East Coast. It was time for me to get educated.

As a psychology major, it’s easy to stay focused on research, internships, and, obviously, time-consuming courses like Experimental Psychology or Psychobiology. It’s easier still to find excuses and only involve myself in projects or initiatives related to my future career. But before my last semester, I wanted to change the attitude I had. With several Gen Eds still left to fulfill, I knew this was the opportunity I had been waiting for to learn more about world politics — no more excuses.

I’d heard good things about the Stern College political science professors Dr. Hill Krishnan, Dr. Matthew Holbreich, and Lucas Perello, which made the decision of which two courses to take a difficult one. In the end, I decided to take “Democracy and Development,” taught by Perello, and “International Relations,” taught by Krishnan.

It has shocked me time and time again just how incredibly eye-opening these two courses have been. It’s one thing to put in every effort to remain informed by reminding yourself to check news sites regularly, or signing up to receive emails from news-dispensing media companies, like the Skimm. It’s a totally different ballpark when current events, and all the past political events that have led up to them, are explained to you clearly and concisely by someone who made it their career and mission to do exactly that.

At the end of every weekend, I found myself looking forward to the two classes where I would gain an understanding in subjects that had previously done nothing but baffle me. Whether it was international environmental agreements (and why it takes the US so long to join the rest of the world in agreeing to them), revolutions across Latin America (on which Perello, coming from Chile, has incredible expertise), and surprising new concepts like the fact that India had constituted 25% of the world’s economy and dipped to 7% after England colonized it (all the more impactful coming from Professor Krishnan, who was born and raised in southern India), everything under the sun seemed to relate back to political science in one way or another.

Most of all, I was surprised at the ease with which many students, political science majors and non-political science majors alike, were able to grasp the topics being discussed — even if the  course they were taking was their first poli sci. As much as this could be attributed to individual intelligence, I think the greater contributing factor to this is that many of us already know the “language” of poli sci: many of the concepts are somewhat intuitive, and many of us are familiar with most current events, we just need someone to interpret them for us before we can grasp their full implications.

Also, I know it isn’t much, but all the discussions about the environment that kept coming up in both political science courses prompted me to finally buy a reusable glass water bottle, get a reusable tupperware container instead of using Stern’s disposable salad bowls every day, and use Trader Joe’s paper bags instead of plastic ones for groceries and garbage — all ideas I had been considering for a while, but needed just a little prodding to put into action. So if anyone out there thinks political science is just about politicians bickering, or about plenty of theoretical discussion but little action, you couldn’t be further from the truth.

As someone whose parents grew up behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain and told me about the kind of biased and inaccurate “reality” about the outside world that was fed to them throughout their teens and twenties, I feel incredibly grateful to learn accurate, up-to-date information from professors from around the world — many of whom have firsthand experience with the topics being discussed — about a plethora of international issues. I hope everyone, poli sci major or not, gets at least one opportunity during their college career to take courses like these and appreciate their significance.