Last year at the end of fall semester, I received an email about a class called Political Participation and Leadership. The class was looking for individuals who were not afraid to be vocal about their political views and had previously been a part of some form of campus activism. Its design was to train leaders who could eventually become agents of political change in their respective communities.

Since I was an outspoken conservative on Duke’s campus, Professors Alma Blount and Steve Schewel tracked me down. I was advised that, especially as a freshman, this course would a challenge both intellectually and personally. Nonetheless, I decided that the personal enhancement that I would gain would certainly be worth it. Although I had strong convictions, a decent grasp of knowledge and principles, and ardent passion for my ideology, little did I know that I was far from being a leader. My political identity was hardly developed, and I was not yet capable of addressing the political polarization present in our country.

The first day of class, I instantly realized that I was outnumbered. After a fall semester of being constantly annoyed by a liberal dominance on campus and the widespread inability to cope with a Donald Trump presidential victory, the last thing I wanted to do was be part of an echo chamber that invalidated my opinions because I was the ideological minority. Thus, for the first few classes and writing assignments, I seemed to, as Professor Schewel put it, “have an axe to grind.” I was quick to dismiss everyone’s arguments and be completely combative.

Although difficult at first, Professors Blount and Schewel dedicated their time to coaching me and the rest of the class, never giving up on us in the process. Through rigorous analysis of reading assignments and, as Professor Schewel put it, “riveting” discussions, I began to learn how to empathize with the other side and understand the power of bipartisanship. By the end of the spring, our class became its own form of family.

A colleague of mine at The Chronicle and former classmate in Professor Schewel’s class, Sabriyya Pate, who is a junior pursuing Conflict and Negotiation Studies, characterizes her experience with Professor Schewel by saying, “My Political Participation and Leadership course with Steve Schewel was hands down one of the most formative courses of my Duke career. It invigorated my curiosity in the impact of effective leadership, and I feel very fortunate to have taken the class with such a distinguished activist, professor and public servant.”

Why does this matter? Professor Schewel helped facilitate an extremely memorable learning experience. He helped many, including myself, grow as a students and as a citizens. Now he is the mayor-elect of Duke University’s hometown of Durham.

Mayor-elect Schewel and I disagree on just about every political issue from illegal immigration to minimum wage to economic stimulus. Regardless of our differing views, I have the utmost respect for Steve Schewel as a person. When commenting on a specific experiences in class, Pate adds, “I especially remember one day in class when Steve mentioned he had come from a meeting with a concerned Durham resident. I was struck by his immense care and diligence, and expect no less from him as Durham mayor.” Mayor-elect Schewel cares deeply about the success of Durham and has fervent love for this town. Speaking as a conservative who disagrees with him on policy, I know that he will always be looking out for Durham’s best interests.

In a time where political polarization is rampantly disintegrating the social fabric of our nation, Steve Schewel’s win is important. He is an advocate for learning and listening to diverse perspectives. He demonstrates political acumen by facilitating constructive discourse and connecting with people on a true, personal level. He is not a phony politician who has his own self-interest at the forefront. He is a person with whom anyone from any perspective should seek to compromise.

The last day of class will always stick with me. I remember telling Professor Schewel that although I was the only conservative in his class, I felt that I was never threatened or intimidated and that my opinions were always given equal legitimacy during discussions. Professor Schewel reciprocated by saying that I had helped him learn and that my participation in class made an impact on everyone else around me. From that moment on, as I reflected on the semester, I began to appreciate Professor Schewel more and more as leader and take his lessons to heart. In that moment, he demonstrated to me that true leadership was not about getting your point across and vocalizing what you believe, but rather about finding common ground by developing personal relationships. In order to be a leader, it is incumbent on you to seek out what is concerning the other person, put yourself in his or her shoes, and “make change” (as he would say)  as a result of your interactions.

Thus, let me end by saying that Steve Schewel is a “lovable liberal” because from a conservative’s perspective, he is truly someone you can get along with—someone who values your opinion just as much as anyone else’s. I want to thank him for his help and wish him good luck as Durham’s next mayor. 

Mitchell Siegel is a Trinity sophomore. His column, "truth be told," runs on alternate Wednesdays.