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Profiles in Political and Civic Engagement: Rachel Rubin


Rachel Rubin is a Junior majoring in Public Policy and Information Science. The Fresno, California native sat down with us to tell us about herself and her connection with the POLIS mission.

Who is your political hero?

Malala Yousafzai is two years my junior and has already made herself a target of terrorist organizations because of her activism around education for women and girls in Pakistan. That sort of courage is astounding to me; to put yourself at the center of the conflict, not to wait for those who may be older or wiser than you to take up a fight you know is just, to be uncompromising in your pursuit of a better world. I tend to think of politics as something removed from myself, specifically as the business of more experienced folks. Young activists like Malala challenge me to work tirelessly towards the world I want to see.

Speak about your summer internship experience, and a key takeaway you learned.

I fear I may never stop talking about my experience in Southern West Virginia. If you are really interested, this article was written about my time there.

There is really too much to say about this. I can’t emphasize how much I learned, how much I grew to love the community that adopted me. I don’t know that I could, in good faith, recommend such an experience to a person of color or a similarly marginalized individual. I am all too aware that my experience was made possible by affiliation to a well-known private school, white skin, and a grant to cover my expenses. But I believe so fully that students should be working at the ground level, using summers as an opportunity to learn about problems by working with community members on solutions. It is not sexy to send students to Boone County, WV or Dayton, OH or even Fresno, CA, but it is something I think Duke should do more of.

What is your experience with/view on bipartisanship?

I come from a relatively apolitical family in a conservative area, so my politics sort of grew out of a vacuum. Over the last two years, I have lived in one of the most liberal and one of the most conservative counties in the country, and both have forced me to work out arguments that I had, at one point, taken for granted or assumed to be settled. I see no reason why being uncompromising in one’s beliefs and being collegial have to be mutually exclusive. Don’t get me wrong, there are issues I do not believe are up for debate. Under no circumstances should a person have to argue that they are not “lesser than.” But in the same way we know a political persuasion does not imply absence of morality or human dignity, we know that no one person can have all the answers.

I used to fault my high school peers for taking the positions they heard at the dinner table as their own; is it any different for me to adopt the political opinions of my professors? If an intelligent person and I agree on issue X, and they have a certain position on issue Y, is blindly taking that position any less intellectually dishonest? 

What has been the impact of POLIS on your Duke experience?

POLIS and the Hart Leadership Program forcibly moved me from the “civic engagement” camp to the “political participation.” I had always kept politics at an arm’s length; it’s not like growing up you hear particularly wonderful things about politicians. Upon arriving at Duke, these programs showed me that to think about service without politics is a fool’s errand. To go serve in a soup kitchen without ever giving a thought to what causes hunger in a community is to accept the status quo. Part of me thinks I never considered myself qualified to have an opinion in debates over “who gets what and why”—the definition, in my mind, of politics. Seeing this distinction sharply increased the level of urgency I assigned to policy debates.


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