A Harvard graduate’s years of love-hate relationship with the Ivy League university, have made her the face of a Republican movement against elite institutions.
When Elise Stefanik graduated from Harvard in 2006, she was the youngest ever woman to do so. She had achieved success at the most prestigious college in the country, yet, as she said in her graduation speech, Harvard embodied “the establishment” and she was “on the outside looking in”. With a successful career in government and business, Stefanik has now come full circle, using her background to shape her political career that has put her at the helm of the GOP’s fight against criticism of elite colleges.
The critique of elite universities has long aroused strong emotions among Republicans. Whether it’s the decision of the ivory tower elite to exclude conservative speakers on campuses, or theories that, for example, college leniency in dealing with sexual assault is indulging violent offenders, the GOP is increasingly vocalizing its grievances against what it perceives to be opposition to traditional values.
Stefanik has become the face of this movement due to her age, ambition and political pedigree: She comes from a conservative family of Hungarian refugees and the first in her family to graduate from college. In her current role as chair of the GOP’s Higher Education Task Force, she has been vocal in criticizing the culture of elite universities, and is a staunch defender of free speech on campus.
Her critiques, which also include issues such as tuition fees and student debt, are a reflection of her own experience. Despite her own success story, Stefanik has retained her distaste for the “old-fashioned” Ivy elite and close relationship with the GOP. Rather than shying away from her own background as a Harvard graduate and furthering her career within mainly liberal organizations, she has used it to shape her current political direction.
In her 2012 commencement address, Stefanik also reflected her doubts with Harvard’s embrace of modern culture, namely, that “while Harvard may have changed, and I may have changed, the gap between its world and my world remained”. But it is in this space where Stefanik stands out, bridging the gap between her conservative views and the elitist culture she grew up in. In this way, Stefanik has managed to become a spokesperson for the GOP’s views on elite universities by what she calls an “Outsider’s” view.