A new student group is coming to campus, centered around enabling students to build leadership skills while bridging the gap between political parties to create a safe environment to discuss political issues.

The Young American Leaders Initiative practically formed itself, when wave after wave of distraught students approached 21-year-old UNM student Christopher Haquani with concerns about the results from November’s election, resulting in one of the most surprising outcomes in election history.

Many students didn’t feel safe and were worried about what was going to happen to them, their families and their friends, Haquani said.



Haquani admitted he was nervous too, but he always wanted to create a mentorship program and show people how they could perform public service and get involved within the community, without having to turn to politics.

“Public service is not a political thing,” he said. “It’s part of being a citizen.”

Once Haquani had a sufficient amount of students interested, he contacted Michael Rocca — an American politics professor at UNM — who jumped at the opportunity to help.

Rocca said this last campaign cycle and the start of President Donald Trump’s time in office feels different.

“First-time voters can see the context and see how the process works and accept it, but that’s not how it really works,” he said.

Rocca said he is interested in any effort to help facilitate and create leaders. He said YALI — the main goal of which is to enable and empower students at every level in society — will show students how the process should work and how they can be a part of it.

“Each student will create a leadership development program that guides others through a discussion of what it means to be a leader, and give them an education on leadership philosophy,” Haquani said.

They will also develop those concepts through practice, as each student in the group will design a public service program that aligns with his or her career path, such as mentorships, he said. The group is an accessible one, too; students don’t have to have a political science background to create the programs. Instead, they have the opportunity to create mentorships in many different fields, such as art, biology and language.

“In developing these programs, students will create a blueprint that they can carry with them once they graduate and leave behind for future members to use as reference,” Haquani said. “Sometimes students don’t know how to get the education they want or how to develop certain skills to accomplish what they really want to do. YALI will provide resources to help students get to where they want to be.”

The secondary goal is to create or develop good habits in regards to constructive dialogue. Rocca said there is a lot of animosity and tension between the two political parties right now, which obstructs the ability to have constructive conversations.

“YALI encourages all students, regardless of their partisan and ideological backgrounds, to come together and hear both sides, think through issues, and create solutions to problems in an environment where they will feel safe and welcome,” he said.

The group plans to continue moving forward, even after Haquani graduates, with the help of Rocca, since these will be ongoing and relevant issues for years to come.

The professor stressed the importance of recruiting freshmen and sophomores who can work up to taking over the leadership positions within the group once they become upperclassmen.

“Members of the group need to be energized, excited, and motivated. They need to be willing to make a difference and must come to the group with an open mind,” Rocca said.

YALI plans to host events in the future to get others in the community involved as well. The events will come at the end of each month, as well as meetings just between the members of the program.

Students can get more information and learn how to sign up by visiting the group’s Facebook page.

Kelly Urvanejo is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo.