Politico Donna Brazile Celebrates 20+ Years on the Hilltop
Veteran political strategist Donna Brazile is celebrating more than two decades of teaching at the Georgetown University College of Arts & Sciences.
Brazile, who previously served as the interim chair of the Democratic National Committee, is a prominent writer, television commentator and consultant, sought after by campaigns across the country for her depth of knowledge and experience. On the Hilltop, however, she takes time to instruct the next generation of political leaders.
“As a teacher, my responsibility is to share information as well as to listen to my students. Students are my lighthouse in a big ocean,” says Brazile, an adjunct professor in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. “Throughout my 20-plus years, I have come to Georgetown’s campus expecting to bring something to the table by sharing what I know with my students and asking them to do the same.”
In between visits to television sets and campaign headquarters, Brazile has consistently carved out time to teach her trademark course, Women in American Politics. Her class has touched on monumental events as they’ve happened, from the aftermath of five presidential elections and the midterm cycles in between to the 9/11 attacks, the announcement of Pope Francis, the election of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to Speaker of the House, the election of Vice President Kamala Harris and the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Kentanji Brown Jackson.
“In each of these circumstances it has been rewarding, albeit difficult, to discuss the impacts of these events on our nation, our university and ourselves,” says Brazile. “My students have always provided thoughtful insights. We have laughed together and we have cried together.”
For Brazile, the classroom has always been more of a roundtable than a lecture hall, providing a forum to connect and bond with younger voters, new ideas and up-and-comers in the political arena.
“I have spent more time interacting with millennials, Gen Y and Zers than having a beer with a bunch of aging boomers like myself,” Brazile jokes. “Spending time with college students keeps me grounded and, yes, it does make me feel like I understand the culture and priorities of the younger generations… Taylor Swift’s new album is now on my playlist because of my students.”
Beyond the surface of popular culture, the classroom has given Brazile insight into the issues at the forefront of younger voters’ minds.
“Students have expanded my reading list online — and I read everything from the three or four major dailies to Elle, Glamour and more because of my students,” Brazile says. “From day one, I assume my students are more interested in the topics or issues about women’s roles in society than in learning about my partisan points of view.”
Brazile has made a concerted effort to bring in guest lecturers from both sides of the aisle, including GOP strategist Karl Rove, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).
Mentoring the Next Generation of Movers and Shakers
After two decades in the classroom, there is an extensive list of former students on whom Brazile had a lasting impact.
“I met Donna amidst the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which had devastated her hometown and jeopardized her family,” recalls former teaching assistant Shauna Shames. “I was impressed with her eloquent anger at the botched government response to the crisis and her simultaneous dedication to her Georgetown students — she flew back and forth from New Orleans to DC several times in that first week so she did not miss class!”
Shames, now associate professor of political science and director of the Gender Studies Program at Rutgers University, received early exposure to her areas of expertise through Brazile’s course.
“I could see immediately that she cared about the subject matter of the course, women and politics, but cared even more about the bright and eager young women — and a few good men — who packed the classroom,” Shames says. “And of course they loved her.”
Former students speak to Brazile’s eagerness to provide guidance and mentorship, even after graduation.
“If there’s a single person who’s most responsible for my career success post-graduation, it’s Donna,” says Chris Pigott (C’12), senior vice president at DKC, a communications and public affairs agency based in New York City.
After interning with Brazile and working as her teaching assistant, Pigott credits Brazile with helping him secure an internship at the Democratic National Committee, where his supervisor there later hired him at DKC. For Pigott, Brazile’s support has been so much deeper than just professional networking, however.
“Donna has this disarming way of making you feel important, even though she’s usually one of the most important people in any room she’s in,” Pigott says, recalling running into her at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 when Brazile was interim chair of the DNC. “She’s completely selfless, which is not very common in her industry, and is probably why she’s been so successful and created so many friendships with those on both sides of the aisle.”
Brazile’s current TA, Sheila Cruz-Morales (C’23), is a government major and a women’s and gender studies minor. But Cruz-Morales met Brazile before she was even admitted to Georgetown.
“I first met Professor Brazile in 2018 at a book signing for the release of her book For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics,” Cruz-Morales recalls. “When it was my turn to get my book signed, I told Professor Brazile it was my dream to attend Georgetown University. She told me that if I worked hard, anything was possible.”
Two years later, Cruz-Morales saw the realization of her dedication when she was admitted to Georgetown. One of her first priorities: getting into Brazile’s class. Cruz-Morales says she has grown as a thinker and academic under Brazile’s tutelage and that their relationship is an integral component of her Georgetown experience.
“I’ll never forget our first day of teaching together this fall,” Cruz-Morales remembers. “I was recovering from surgery and the first words from Professor Brazile were, ‘If you don’t take care of yourself, I will take care of you.’ That’s who Professor Brazile is, she cares deeply about her students and those around her.”
“She is brilliant, talented, fierce and powerful, but above all, she is the kindest, funniest, most caring and most supportive professor I’ve met at Georgetown. I hold her in high regard and it is a privilege and pleasure to work with her every single week.”
-by Hayden Frye (C’17)