Navneet Gidda’s very first assignment as a Washington Center intern in the summer of 2017 was to write speaking notes for a presentation to be given at the United Nations. Her office, with Americans for Human Rights in Bahrain, was located just down the street from the White House. For the third year political science student, the experience, though intimidating at first, was a challenge she was not only up to, but actively courted.
“In my classes, I took Canadian politics and a lot of political theory, reading about Plato and so on,” says Gidda. “I hadn’t taken a lot of international relations, so that was just me challenging myself and looking at a different field of politics.”
The seed had been planted in the first year of Gidda’s degree program, when her professor, Greg Anderson, suggested that she consider the Washington internship in her third or fourth year.
“I remember it vividly, turning to my friend and saying, we’re never going to end up in Washington! That’s too much. Down the line, I remembered that moment, and I applied and I got it.”
Gidda describes her experiences in Washington as “very cool”, noting in particular several chance encounters with Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, and on one memorable occasion, discussing the Watergate investigation while standing outside of the Watergate hotel. It was her encounters with fellow interns and other Americans, however, that she found most eye opening.
“There is a lot of idealism about Canada,” she says. “People think that Canada is this great place where there is no racism, and we are all kind of happy. I had to explain to them that we have political parties that are polarized, and that populism is growing. But they don’t want to hear that. They want to feel better. They want to think that there is a place that isn’t going through what they’re going through.”
Gidda was just as curious about Trump supporters, including one individual from a southern state who explained that the civil rights movement had not been taught in his school. “It was really shocking to me, but it was interesting to see how people’s views were shaped by education, and it really made me value my education more,” she says. “In the end, I talked to them [Trump supporters], and got to know them. I didn’t agree with their views, but I got to see how those views developed.”
As a child growing up in Calgary and Red Deer, Alberta, Gidda had not envisioned a political science degree or career, or even the Faculty of Arts, enrolling instead in another faculty until the pull of politics proved too powerful to ignore. Early stints volunteering for the Campus Food Bank and the Students’ Union (as a councillor), and then later as President of the Political Science Undergraduate Association (PSUA), deepened her natural inclination toward political engagement, always with an eye toward championing meaningful change.
Along the way, in addition to her coursework and volunteer gigs, Gidda earned a Certificate in International Learning, but it was her experience with the PSUA that she says proved most invaluable to her, both personally and professionally. “I love that group,” she says. “It was so nice to see all of my friends engaged in politics and wanting to make our department better. It’s the group where I had the most impact; where I got to create projects that actually helped students, like the jobs and opportunities page on our website. I got my voice out there, and it was where I met Luke, who was one of my greatest mentors.”
Luke Jansen, a fellow political science student (and former PSUA President), was struck and killed by a LRT train last October. It was through her association with Luke that she learned of a position with the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, where Gidda now works as the Constituency Manager for Edmonton-Strathcona, Premier Rachel Notley’s riding. A long-time volunteer for the NDP, Gidda says that she is living her dream.
“It’s kind of shocking,” she says. “I remember when I was at home with my parents in Red Deer, and I was seeing her [Rachel Notley] on the news every day, and I was thinking, I want to work for this woman! And so sometimes I take a moment and think, wow, I work for the person I looked up to, and we’re actually making a difference in the lives of everyday people.”
“I work for the person I looked up to, and we’re actually making a difference in the lives of everyday people.”
Gidda says that as a province, and as a country, we still have a long way to go. “As a woman of colour, it’s difficult to find people who look like me in elected positions. And now that I work for the provincial government, I see how much influence MLAs have as elected officials to shape policy. So maybe sometime in the future, I will run for office, but who knows?”
“For now,” she says, “I’ll continue working and helping with our policies and making sure we’re listening to people.”
Navneet Gidda will receive her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Alberta Convocation ceremony on June 6, 2018.