In May of 2011, a group of Stanford students, concerned about the state of foreign policy discourse on campus, started the Alexander Hamilton Society (AHS) at Stanford. The new chapter is part of a nation-wide organization that started in March 2010 and that has quickly spread to 26 college campuses across the nation, including two professional chapters in New York and Washington D.C.
The national organization describes itself as “an independent, non-partisan, not-for-profit
organization dedicated to promoting constructive debate on basic principles and
contemporary issues in foreign, economic, and national security policy.” It takes its name after Alexander Hamilton, the United State’s first Secretary of the Treasury and a proponent of a strong national military.
Josh Alvarez ’12, the President of Stanford’s chapter and an International Relations major, explains the reason for launching AHS at Stanford. “The national dialogue right now, especially on college campuses, about US foreign policy and US involvement in the world, has become less and less informed and become much more subject to ideological battles,” he stated.
The Alexander Hamilton Society, often compared to the Federalist Society in law schools, kicked off their first event in May with Randall G. Schriver, the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. At least 50 people showed up to listen to Schriver’s analysis of US-Chinese relations over the past decade.
“AHS plays an important role in dispelling myths that might be falsely perpetuated outside of Stanford,” stated Treasurer Mike Ponce ’12. Speaking about the Schriver event on US-Chinese relations, he said, “It cleared up many misconceptions I previously held. I doubt I was the only one who left with a greater understanding of that relationship.”
The organization is independent and non-partisan, yet it strives to represent alternative perspectives that do not always make it into university classrooms. Alvarez stated, “In international relations the liberal internationalist narrative dominates how classes are taught.” For him, AHS will act to “bring in things like a more balanced debate and more balanced perspective on serious topics from national security to foreign policy.”
But Stanford does have members of the Hoover Institution, who generally share more of those alternative perspectives, teaching classes. Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State, teaches an application-only class during winter quarter called “Challenges in American Foreign Policy.” Abbas Milani, another Hoover Fellow, teaches international relations courses on Iran.
Alvarez admits that Stanford’s Hoover Institution “is a serious plus compared to some other schools.” Though he still feels that Hoover Fellows have trouble being heard among the student body. “AHS serves as a platform for both sides to convene on equal footing to provide sort of a mega-phone for this other perspective that just seems to be not really existent in class today,” he said.
Before AHS, foreign policy interest at Stanford seemed to centralize in International Relations or Political Science majors, occasional anti-war activism, ASSU senate discussions, and talks by Hoover Fellows. But AHS aims at increasing what they believe is an overall lack of awareness on campus about international politics and foreign policy.
“Foreign policy dialogue is existent but largely unnoticed by much of campus,” Ponce remarked, in response to a question about the state of foreign policy awareness among the student body. He continued, “Many students believe that policy decisions don’t affect us so we might ignore them in favor of something more immediate.”
In resolving this perceived absence of international dialogue on campus, Alvarez wants AHS to “serve as a vehicle for informing” the student body on the most important issues, but informing through multiple perspectives.
For him, interest in foreign policy goes beyond just Political Science and International Relations majors. He stated, “Whether [they’re] an engineer or a computer scientist there are a lot of things that happen in international systems that really do affect their futures and their industry.”
Ponce echoed that sentiment, stating, “As students of one of the best universities in the world, we are responsible for knowing about the world we are about to enter regardless of our immediate role. As we prepare to lead the country in the next 10 to 20 years, we need to be aware of the environment we will soon enter upon graduation.”
Akin to what is happening in Washington right now, Alvarez believes students should be most aware of the United States’ debt problem. “There is a very, very close relationship between the state of our economy and our ability to engage abroad,” he stated.
This quarter AHS plans on hosting two different debates between professors both within Stanford and from the outside, as well as hosting a speaking event. The organization stresses their hope that more students will get involved, and particularly that more students will want to get involved in leadership roles. All five of the organization’s current officers will be graduating in May.
“We don’t need to be policymakers to have a place in these discussions or decisions,” stated Ponce, “My hope for AHS is that we can bring these important discussions into mainstream campus life through formal and informal events.”