Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Jacob Ginn, MPA

Jacob Ginn Jacob Ginn

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Hometown
Oak Park, IL

Undergraduate education
Bachelor’s degree in screen arts and cultures with a concentration in Screenwriting, University of Michigan, 2015

Professional/research interests
Environment, health (including mental health), gender and sexuality, social and economic inequality, political sociology, social movements

Honors
La Follette School scholarship and fellowship

Expected graduation date
May 2020

Why an MPA?
During an aimless period after graduating from college, I began volunteering for several nonprofit organizations in Chicago devoted to social welfare. While I could see that volunteering in these one-on-one contexts helped to marginally improve people’s wellbeing, I felt that I wasn’t doing enough to address the root causes of these massive collective problems — loneliness, discrimination, inequality, corruption, capitalism. I could de-escalate individuals’ psychological crises and educate a few people about transgender health, but I wasn’t working to dismantle the larger oppressive structures that were causing these problems in the first place. For too long, the neoliberal consensus has obscured the social determinants of individuals’ problems and perpetuated toxic systems of injustice, and I became convinced that the best way to effect positive change was not through individual choices but through public policy. So I enrolled at the La Follette School to learn how to design, implement, and evaluate effective policy measures for improving the quality of people’s lives — many more lives than I could feasibly impact through one-on-one encounters.

Why the La Follette School?
You get the best of both worlds at the La Follette School – it’s a small, tight-knit community that’s embedded in a huge public university where there is so much research and knowledge-sharing happening. The opportunity to take classes at an institution of this caliber definitely attracted me. And Madison is more than a college town – it’s a thriving city. Plus, the La Follette house is right at the top of a hill overlooking Lake Mendota, and it’s really pretty.

Career goals
For now I’d like to work in healthcare, education, or advocacy – as long as wherever I work is at a nonprofit organization or in the public sector. Eventually, I’d like to participate in a nonviolent socialist revolution. When things get complicated, though, sometimes I fantasize about working at an apple orchard near some forests and mountains.

How has the La Follette School set you on the path to meeting your career goals?
I’ve learned so much! Especially about subjects that are so useful but had always grossed me out (statistics and economics). It’s also incredibly rewarding to be immersed in a place where so much learning is happening ... definitely an encouraging environment. And there are so many opportunities and resources that allow you to do whatever you want here.

Project assistantship
I’m a project assistant for Professor Tim Smeeding, who is writing a book about wealth, income, and consumption inequality. I help him by doing research, writing literature reviews, editing manuscript drafts, and organizing materials online. I also get to read tons of really interesting books and articles related to inequality and economics, so it’s been a great experience.

Summer internship
I worked at the Wisconsin chapter of the Sierra Club in Madison as an environmental policy and communications intern. I really liked it!

Primary job responsibilities?
I created multimedia content to galvanize support for the organization’s policy priorities and issue advocacy campaigns, including its push to eliminate Wisconsin’s reliance on fossil fuels, adopt statewide clean energy and transportation, and protect the state’s environment and water supply from harmful practices like sulfide mining and concentrated animal feed operations. I also conducted secondary research, synthesizing information from news sources, scholarly articles, and raw data into more accessible, organized, and concise formats.

Client-based projects
My Workshop group is writing a report for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that outlines the effects of climate change on child poverty. Our goal is to survey the vast body of literature and identify key priorities for researchers and policymakers, ultimately helping to devise a comprehensive climate change and child poverty research agenda. This will also function to garner attention to and persuade policymakers of the severity of the issue and the need for swift mitigation and adaptation efforts.

La Follette School mentors
Student Services Coordinator Mo O’Connor is amazing!! She’s always happy to talk and provide guidance and advice.

Advice for prospective La Follette School students
Use your electives! I’ve taken some amazing courses at UW-Madison – from communications to sociology to gender and women’s studies to political science – that have informed how I think about policy. I’ve learned so much and been so inspired by many of these elective courses; they’ve really broadened my perspective and given me frameworks for thinking critically about issues I care about.

How has the La Follette School changed the way you think about public policy?
Instead of tinkering, nudging, and tweaking, we should be transforming. Instead of addressing proximal factors with incremental and superficial half-measures, we should be addressing fundamental root causes with substantial structural changes. Instead of adhering to the outmoded assumptions of neoliberal economics that emphasize efficiency maximization and glorify market-based solutions, we should be striving forward to create entirely new frameworks that advance social justice and elevate collective wellbeing. Instead of adopting top-down and technocratic approaches to policy, we should embrace democracy and channel the power and intelligence of an engaged public. And we should never let the specter of political feasibility dictate our policy options and constrain our political imaginations.

Most importantly, though, policy by itself has limitations. We can craft the most effective solutions to the most serious public problems, but these policies will never get implemented without political power. And we lack power. So that leaves us with two options: we can either snuggle up to the forces currently in power to effect superficial change that doesn’t challenge the deep systemic inequities of the status quo, or we can seize power by spurring an energized public into action using grassroots organizing to push for the policies that would truly improve lives and give everyone the opportunity to flourish.

Before the La Follette School
After graduating from college during what was allegedly a “strong” economy, I tried to get a stable job that wasn’t in marketing or consulting, but failed. So I moved back in with my parents (I was fortunate and privileged enough that they could take me in) and was forced to join many of my fellow recently graduated millennials in what sociologists are now calling “the precariat” – a class of people (under)employed in precarious and short-term service work that’s characterized by low pay, unpredictable hours, no job security, and little-to-no benefits. I mostly worked minimum-wage food service and retail positions – I was a barista, I drove for Uber, I worked at Banana Republic, and I even landed a temporary position as an apprentice to a cheesemonger.

During this time, however, I continued to write and also began volunteering at an LGBTQ+ community center, on political campaigns, and for the Crisis Text Line, a hotline where I helped de-escalate potentially devastating mental health crises. My volunteer work got me interested in policy, inequality, and social justice, and that’s how I ended up here.

Volunteer activities
I still volunteer for the Sierra Club, and I’ve also volunteered for the Wisconsin Conservation Voters, which is another environmental nonprofit organization in Madison that focuses on lobbying for greater environmental protections. And I’m planning to volunteer for some political campaigns soon!

What prompted you to write Buttling?
Well, I had always wanted to be a butler (you get to work in fancy houses and wear cool uniforms, plus room and board is provided with the job), so I started looking into it and discovered that there was a butler academy in a castle in the Netherlands that trained people on how to buttle. So once I found out about that, how could I not write something?

What is your favorite cheese?
As I mentioned above, I used to be an apprentice to a cheesemonger in Chicago (and eventually I became a novice cheesemonger myself). But – out of environmental, ethical, and health concerns – I have since embraced a more vegan diet, despite now living in America’s dairyland. So no more cheese, aside from an occasional slice of plant-based pepperjack (although sometimes I still eat my mom’s baked goods even though I know there’s definitely dairy in there but it’s hard to turn her down). By the end of this century, I hope we will have ended the practice of animal agriculture.