A newly red District: What that means for AU grads and faculty

March 5, 2017

WASHINGTON (The Eagle) - Many students come to AU for its D.C. location with the hope of landing a job in politics after they graduate. In light of the 2016 election, though, the University’s liberal students may need to rethink their plans.

Fourteen percent of AU graduates were working in government six months after graduation, according to AU’s 2015 Graduation Census. For masters students, that number is 30 percent. 

A redesigned political landscape could mean many students have to make alternative plans months before graduation. Four thousand Democrats are out of administrative jobs in D.C., and organizations like lobbying firms are passing up Democrats’ resumes in favor of those with a connection to the Republican majority, Politico reported in January.

Whether or not graduates are Democratic or Republican, increased competition combined with shrinking job availability and President Trump’s recent federal hiring freeze could present roadblocks in chasing their post-AU ambitions.

Government prospects

On Jan. 23, Trump ordered an employment freeze for the federal government, with the exception of national security, public safety, military positions and other exemptions that are “otherwise necessary,” according to a memo he issued that day. 

Temporary federal hiring freezes are fairly common in the early months of a new administration, said David Rosenbloom, a professor in the School of Public Affairs. He added that it is hard to predict how strict the freeze will be, but that state and local governments will be hiring more staff.

“I think for undergraduates, this will be a real problem at the federal level,” Rosenbloom said. “But there is work to be done, and if the federal government isn’t doing it then, in some cases, the states may have to pick up what they have been doing, as is the same of local government.”

In regards to political affiliation, however, Rosenbloom said it was unlikely Trump or his administration would play a direct role in hiring for the positions recent graduates will fill. On the other hand, he said, there is a potential that Trump’s presidency would bring on a “retirement tsunami” that has been predicted for about ten years. 

"One theory would be that, especially in the domestic agencies, higher level employees would see the Trump administration as not helpful to their mission and decide to retire,” he said, which would open up lower level positions that could become available to recent graduates.

Students seeking jobs after graduation this spring won’t be the only ones affected by the shift in job availability. Caroline Bruckner, an executive in residence in the Kogod School of Business and the former senior counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee for Small Business and Entrepreneurship from 2009-2014, said that many AU professors’ work may be impacted since some faculty members do contracting work or research for the government.

“If [the administration is] not going to raise money for tax cuts, then you have to look at the spending side of the budget ledger and that could mean that there could be cuts in research dollars,” she said. “If you do research that’s funded by the federal government, I’d be concerned. That money has to come from somewhere.”

Upending the status quo

AU has traditionally been known as a liberal-leaning school; now, those who previously found themselves in the minority are seeing a different political landscape unfold. 

Tom Hebert, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and the President of AU College Republicans, said that it can be hard to be a Republican in D.C. even now, noting nearly 91 percent of the District voted for Hillary Clinton in the presidential election, according to Ballotpedia

"There's no Democrat who wants to go work for this administration,” he said. “A lot of Republicans don't even want to work for this administration.” 

Bruckner noted the same trend based on the recent movement of staff positions on Capitol Hill.

“It’s been interesting because my colleagues who are in senior positions on Capitol Hill aren’t necessarily jumping to join the administration, because the majority of them supported a different Republican primary candidate,” Bruckner said. “But some of my former colleagues who are more junior have been getting opportunities to join the administration and are actually taking them.”

Blue students in a red city

The election’s results sent shockwaves through liberal circles on campus. 

Mary-Margaret Koch, a junior in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communications, spent the year before the election campaigning for Hillary Clinton and other Democratic races. After graduation, she had planned to go to graduate school and work in public policy. 

“To say that the result was shocking is kind of putting it mildly,” Koch said. “It just made me really realize that for a lot of us, as Democrats, it was the first time I can really remember truly losing and having it be so devastating.”

Now, Koch said she may hop onto a race for the end of the 2018 midterm cycle and possibly campaign ahead of the 2020 election. She’s still unsure whether she’d like to get into policy through advocacy, which can mean working for an non-governmental organization to push forward policy, or through administration, which means working directly in government.

“The selection of Trump kind of made me realize that you can only do policy if the politicians that you want voting for the law are in office,” Koch said. 

Sasha Gilthorpe, a senior in the School of Public Affairs and School of Communication, set her sights on midterm elections the morning after Trump’s win. 

“I was in the Javits Center on the night of the election, where Hillary was supposed to give her speech, and I just woke up the next day and was immediately researching races,” Gilthorpe, who served as Student Government president from 2015-2016, said. “I know there are a lot of opportunities out there and I just need to go find them. I don’t want to be in D.C. right now.”

Gilthorpe came to AU because she loves politics and the District, but said she feels that it’s the right time to take her talents and interests to a senate or governor's race, most likely in the Midwest, and bring her accomplishments back to D.C.

“D.C. will always be here and I know that if I work hard somewhere else, then I can come back and feel that I’ve accomplished something,” Gilthorpe said. “I just know that it’s unlikely for me to find a position in D.C. that will give me the kind of job satisfaction that right now I’m looking for.”

A seat at the table

Other liberal students are looking to stake their claim in D.C.

Valeria Ojeda-Avitia, a senior in the School of International Studies, said that Clinton’s loss was especially hard for her because her family immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico and is impacted by the immigration policies Trump proposed during the campaign.

“My family members talk to me and they’re scared,” Ojeda-Avitia said. “But if anything, it gives me more motivation to work harder in doing anything.”

Ojeda-Avitia said that what she really wants to do is advocate and can’t do that if she’s not part of the conversations going on in the capital.

“The weight falls on my shoulders much heavier than it did before,” Ojeda-Avitia said. “I represent my family of immigrants, I represent New Mexico in D.C. and I represent minority women in a political field.”

Hannah Tennies, a senior in the School of Public Affairs and College of Arts and Sciences, is currently interning at the National Organization for Women and also said advocacy organizations like NOW are gaining more attention and are “really gearing up” to fight against the new administration.

She had some doubts about staying in the District after the election, but has found that there are still many people there who want to advocate for the same things she does.

“I feel like after the election it was the first time that I felt that this isn’t my city, and D.C. feels so different now,” Tennies said. “But I think ever since the new administration has come in, the protests and the marches attest to people becoming more politically active. It really has reminded me that this is what D.C. is and even if a new administration or political party takes power, there are still a lot of people who are really passionate about the things I’m passionate about.”

Eagle writers Deanna Mudry and Anna Donohue contributed to this report.

Ana SrikanthComment