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Ben Takemoto '10, an intern with Asian Americans United, collects a signature for an anti-casino petition.
Ben Takemoto '10, an intern with Asian Americans United, collects a signature for an anti-casino petition.

Students in Political Science Class Get Hands-On Experience

His classmates may spend their Saturdays catching up on sleep or homework, but Ben Takemoto ’10 prefers to spend them petitioning.

As an intern with Asian Americans United, a Philadelphia nonprofit organization that promotes leadership in the Asian American community, Takemoto has been active in the group’s fight to stop a casino from being built at the Gallery on Market Street, just blocks from Chinatown. Every week, Takemoto and cohorts take to the Philadelphia streets, pressing their case and collecting signatures.

“We try to focus on the moral problems of casinos, that they encourage gambling addictions and break up families,” says Takemoto. “They also make no economic sense; they destroy local businesses and put a strain on city services.”

Takemoto’s internship is made possible through Associate Professor of Political Science Steve McGovern’s course “Grassroots Politics in Philadelphia.” As part of the seminar, which was first offered in the fall of 2004, students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr apply their classroom lessons to real-world situations as interns with Philadelphia government and nonprofit agencies.

“Grassroots Politics” is rigorous even by Haverford standards: In addition to meeting weekly and discussing the assigned texts on urban politics and theories of grassroots organizing, students devote seven hours per week to their internships. “The close analysis of scholarly publications informs students’ work in the field, which, in turn, helps to make the academic literature come alive,” says McGovern.

The class also serves as preparation for senior theses. “The extensive field work that all students undertake gives them first-hand experience with doing original, empirical research,” says McGovern. “Even if that research does not become the foundation for a thesis, students will have acquired valuable methodological and analytical skills that can be applied in a subsequent project.”

Students who sign up for the class are well aware of its demands, and because of their interest in grassroots politics, they consider it a worthwhile investment of their time and energy. “I want to know what makes people stand up for something,” says Alex Kaplan ’09. “It’s central to addressing social change that people fight for themselves against the injustices they see, devoting time from their busy lives to a worthwhile cause.” Kaplan is working for SEIU (Service Employees International Union), a progressive labor union; his responsibilities have included surveying a building’s working conditions and helping to unionize suburban offices.

“I wanted a hands-on experience, and a better idea of what’s going on in Philadelphia,” says Berit Erickson ’10. Erickson wasn’t aware of the various problems facing city elementary and high school students until she began working with the Philadelphia Student Union, which urges young people to have more say in the decisions that affect them. “It really opened my eyes to what the school district is like,” she says, “and how it’s sometimes a struggle for [students] to get what they need.”

“I think Haverford students don’t have enough involvement with the city,” says Becca Varon ’10. “I’m enjoying the chance to learn more about Philadelphia and its politics, and become more engaged with the place where I live.” Varon interns with the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, and is involved in an effort to reclaim empty land held by the city and turn it over to community ownership, so it can be used for housing, parks, and recreation.

Haverford alumni also contribute to the success of “Grassroots Politics,” as many are employed by the Philadelphia organizations currently hosting interns. These include Ali Kronley ’99 at ACORN; Paul Socolar ’77 at Philadelphia Public School Notebook; Baruch Kintisch ’84 at the Education Law Center; and Julie Eubank ’08 at the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger (GPCAH), where she once interned during her undergraduate days through the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship. “I am incredibly grateful to the CPGC and all the comparable programs that Haverford offers, including classes like Professor McGovern’s, and am proud and thrilled to be able to support them through our work,” says Eubank.

Fumiko Shogase ’10, GPCAH’s current intern, is focusing on outreach to child care providers and other organizations geared towards working families with children. “I hope that Fumiko and the other interns in Professor McGovern’s class will carry these experiences with them as they choose careers, volunteer in the future, and vote,” says Eubank.

-Brenna McBride

Students cross in front of Founders Hall.

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