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From classroom to candidacy
Quinnipiac professor runs in 2018 Midterm Election
Quinnipiac legal studies professor, Sujata Gadkar-Wilcox, is applying her political expertise to the real-world and is running for office in the upcoming midterm election. Gadkar-Wilcox is running as a Democratic candidate for the Trumbull State Representative of the 123rd District of Connecticut.
“We need a political climate that is focused on political ethics, and that’s the kind of government that the framers envisioned. And this is an opportunity for us now to have those conversations,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.
Gadkar-Wilcox uses her office hours as a professor to connect with students. As a candidate, Gadkar-Wilcox also holds office hours to meet with constituents. She meets with them in a local Trumbull coffee shop on Tuesdays.
“I have coffee every Tuesday and that’s something I would continue,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “We’re actually going door to door talking to people, having conversations.”
These conversations are focused on what Gadkar-Wilcox believes is the most important issue in politics: the fact that the number one fear Americans had in 2017 was the corruption of government figures, Gadkar-Wilcox cited from a Chapman University study.
“People are concerned about this loss of trust in politics, and we need to bring that trust back,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.
She hopes to build trust in her constituents by being the sort of politician that is accessible and available. She plans to focus on the political climate before tackling policy.
“Of course there are policy issues that we’re focusing on, but I think there are bigger political issues in terms of the political climate that I’ve been able to talk about,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.
Gadkar-Wilcox believes it is her role as a professor to practice the information she teaches in the classroom. She believes her discipline, in particular, lends itself to real world modeling for students about how their knowledge can be a practical tool for affecting change.
“One thing that we see, particularly in the College of Arts and Sciences is that we also have to stop separating what happens in the classroom with what’s happening in the community,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.
Her current campaign, grounded in the foundations of constitutional law, is not the first bridge she has built from the classroom to the real-world. Gadkar-Wilcox founded the Quinnipiac mock-trial team in 2011 to help students apply the legal concepts they learned in the classroom to actual trial situations.
Gadkar-Wilcox also founded the Global Engagement Fellows Program on campus. The goal of the program parallels the theme of her campaign for state representative. She explained that the program’s mission was to give students informed practice for working collaboratively in communities.
“We can’t just think about human rights in our classrooms any more as sort of this abstract notion,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “But we need to start thinking about human rights in local communities.”
She defines her run for office as the “next step” after forming these two organizations on here at Quinnipiac.
“We have to have a bridge, we need to have informed practice,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “Those two programs are a model of bridging what we do in the classroom to the community and this, to me, is just another version of that.”
Gadkar-Wilcox is providing students with yet another way to gain real-world experience by encouraging them to volunteer on her campaign, which she defines as “very grass-roots.” She needs volunteers to help with door-knocking and making phone calls – in short, having the conversations that her campaign is founded on.
“I think that’s the most important point – as academics that we’re doing this work in the community – because that’s where it’s a reality,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.
Ali Munshi, a Quinnipiac graduate, received a scholarship to Drexel University Thomad R. Cline School of Law because of his involvement on mock trial. He accredits much of his personal and professional success to working with the professor and taking her classes.
“In terms of having her as a professor in the classroom, she has guided me to a point where no other professor has and it is because of her I have a scholarship to law school,” Munshi said.
Munshi attested that he would do “anything for Sujata” including working on her campaign which he said is a powerful learning experience for students.
“What’s great about her campaign is it’s all about honesty, integrity, and establishing those types of ideals back into politics,” Munshi said. “But it’s also very targeted towards our demographic.”
In addition to being a professor, the founder of two student organizations and a political candidate, Gadkar-Wilcox is also a wife and a mother of two daughters. When asked how she balances the many hats she wears, Gadkar-Wilcox said that being a politician will only benefit her as a mother and a professor.
“It’s in fact for your children that you’re getting involved because you want to make a better political environment for them,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.
Lisa Burns, professor and chair of the media studies department at Quinnipiac, agrees that holding political office will only benefit Gadkar-WIlcox’s students, like Munshi.
“I think it’s amazing that Prof. Gadkar-Wilcox is running for state office,” Burns said in an email. “It’s a great opportunity for Quinnipiac students to see first-hand how to transform our passions into action and really make a difference in the world.”
Assuming she wins, Gadkar-Wilcox admits that she will be busy, especially because of her grass-roots style, which calls for interaction with individual constituents.
“For me, it does feel like it’s a lot, particularly because we’re trying to have genuine conversations which takes even more time,” Gadkar-Wilcox said.
While running as a democrat, Gadkar-Wilcox attests that she doesn’t believe in petty politics and harsh party divisions. Her beliefs most closely align with the democratic party, but in reality, she’s running as a teacher and championing the beliefs she teaches in constitutional law class.
“It’s not about partisan politics,” Gadkar-Wilcox said. “It’s about politics that preserve democratic principles.”
Munshi encourages all Trumbull voters to turn out in support of his professor this November. When asked why, Munshi responded with glowing accolades for his professor.
“Because when we talk about instilling honesty, integrity, and responsibility back into office, there is no human being on the face of this earth that embodies that more than Sujata,” Munshi said.