“Off the Record” is the Yale Politics Initiative’s master class series on political practice. Guests come to campus to teach application-only classes capped at twenty-five students. The classes focus on specific case studies in the guests’ areas of expertise, and are designed to leave participants with new skills and a deeper understanding of the guests’ work.
To apply for a master class, click one of the buttons below. You must apply separately to each class that you are interested in taking. Acceptance to one class does not affect your chance of acceptance to another. Our master classes are comprised of students with a wide range of academic and extracurricular interests. We are primarily looking for students who have creative, specific, well-informed questions for our guests.
Former President of Planned Parenthood
Cecile Richards is an American pro-choice activist who served as the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund from 2006 to 2018. Under her leadership, the organization’s number of active supporters more than tripled, surpassing ten million. As a result, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2012.
Before joining Planned Parenthood, Ms. Richards served as deputy chief of staff for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In 2004, she founded and served as president of America Votes, a coalition of 42 national grassroots organizations working to maximize voter registration, education, and participation. She began her career organizing low-wage workers in the hotel, health care, and janitorial industries throughout California, Louisiana, and Texas.
Former White House Press Secretary
Sean Spicer is an American political operative who served as the twenty-eighth White House Press Secretary and as White House Communications Director under President Donald Trump in 2017.
Before Mr. Spicer established himself as one of the most recognized staffers in the Trump administration, he built a decades-long career in Republican politics, studying and shaping the inner workings of Washington.
From 2003 to 2005, Spicer was the communications director and spokesman for the House Budget Committee. He subsequently served as the communications director for the Republican Conference of the U.S. House of Representatives, and then, from 2006 to 2009, was the assistant for media and public affairs at the Office of the United States Trade Representative in President George W. Bush's administration. More recently, Spicer worked as the communications director of the Republican National Committee from 2011 to 2017, and its chief strategist from 2015 to 2017.
Black Lives Matter Activist
DeRay Mckesson is an American civil rights activist, community organizer, podcast host, and author. He is best known for activism via social media and his gripping, on-the-ground coverage of Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland following the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.
Mckesson began his career as an organizer in Baltimore as a teen, and he would later go on on to work for Teach for America in New York City. However, following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, Mckesson decided to leave his job within the Minneapolis Public School system and pursue a career in social activism.
In April 2015, Mckesson and fellow activists Johnetta Elzie, Samuel Sinyangwe, and Brittany Packnett launched "Mapping Police Violence", which collected quantitative data on people killed by police during 2014. Later in 2015, Mckesson and his partners launched Campaign Zero, a ten-point policy plan for police reform. This work, alongside his advocacy on behalf of Black Lives Matter, earned him a spot on Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 greatest world leaders in 2015. He currently hosts the Crooked Media podcast Pod Save the People.
Former White House Chief of Staff
Reince Priebus is an American lawyer and politician who served as White House chief of staff for President Donald Trump from January 20, 2017, until July 31, 2017. He also served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2011 to 2017.
At the start of his first term as chairman of the RNC, Priebus inherited a $23 million debt from his predecessor. Priebus stated that his goals for his leadership were to rebuild the organization's finances, improve relationships with major donors, as well as aiding Republican efforts to take control on Congress. By the end of 2012, Priebus had raised more than $88 million and erased the party’s debt – and in the 2014 midterms the GOP secured a majority in Senate.
After leaving the White House in 2017, Priebus returned to private practice as president and chief strategist of powerhouse law firm Michael Best and Friedrich LLP.
President of the Center for American Progress
Neera Tanden is the President of the Center for American Progress, a well-known public policy research and advocacy organization associated with the centrist wing of the Democratic Party. During the 2008 election, she served as the policy director for both Hillary Clinton and soon-to-be President Barack Obama.
Tanden went on to work in the Obama administration as senior adviser to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services, aiding the effort to gain passage of Obama's healthcare legislation.
More recently, Tanden writes a regular column for The New Republic, and she appears regularly as a political analyst and commentator on PBS, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News programs.
Donald Trump’s 2020 Campaign Manager
Brad Parscale was the digital media director for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and currently serves as the campaign manager for Trump's 2020 reelection campaign.
Parscale began working for the Trump Organization in 2011 as a digital media strategist & “guru.” A few years later, in 2015, Trump hired Parscale and his firm, Giles-Parscale, to create a website for his exploratory campaign. Once Trump announced his intention to run for president, Parscale was responsible for running the Donald J. Trump for President website, as well as for media strategy, online fundraising efforts, data science, and polling. He is reportedly responsible for pushing Trump to focus campaign resources on Michigan and Wisconsin – a decision that was instrumental in winning the election.
Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Campaign Manager
Robby Mook is a nationally recognized campaign strategist. His most prominent successes include the 2013 election of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and the 2008 election of Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s first woman Senator.
Mook has also served as the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012 and, most notably, as the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
Mook is currently a CNN political commentator and a 2017-2018 Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics.