Tsarovsky engages students to make a difference in local government

Portrait of Eli Tsarovsky
“Knowing that we have added important value to the discussion on housing policy in downtown Madison has been really exciting,” said Eli Tsarovsky, La Follette student and Campus Area Neighborhood Association President

As the president of the Campus Area Neighborhood Association (CANA), current MPA-MPH student Eli Tsarovsky has worked to open up conversations on local developments, issues, and licensing in Madison while promoting civic engagement and ensuring that all voices are equitably heard in the Madison community.

Tsarovsky joined CANA in 2020 when a group of students decided to reform the association that had been inactive for 10 years. This was his first introduction to topics of zoning, land use policy, and sustainability in housing development. “Many people hear that and think that sounds super dry,” Tsarovsky says. “But then you realize, every building that happens downtown has to go through a public input process and there is a serious opportunity for people to get involved… every single crane you see in the campus area was touched by the Campus Area Neighborhood Association.” CANA has had a substantial impact on the Madison area, from alcohol licensing projects with local bars to pushing discounted affordable housing. “One thing that we hear from developers is that if CANA wasn’t here, these developments wouldn’t have happened,” Tsarovsky says. “Knowing that we have added important value to the discussion on housing policy in downtown Madison has been really exciting.”

Tsarovsky and the rest of CANA are focused on new ways of getting young people civically engaged and caring about local government. The group focuses on outreach to the community through surveying downtown, online forms, and social media to gauge opinion and spread word of upcoming city meetings. Tsarovsky emphasizes the impact of student voice in local government. “When students and young people come and speak at city and common council, they make an impact,” Tsarovsky says. “People realize, we did not think about your perspective or story.”

According to Tsarovsky, involvement in local government offers La Follette students a great opportunity to gain experience working with real-life policy. These local matters offer opportunities for students to make real and lasting change in their community while gaining experience working with policy. “You see the fruition of your work almost immediately in local government because people are voting on it every couple of months,” Tsarovsky says. “Practicing policy, public speaking, relationship development, and management in politics gives you a better understanding of what goes into policy and makes you a better policymaker.” Tsarovsky’s skills in policy writing and research learned at La Follette have proven to be immensely useful when he is working with housing projects. The opportunity to use these skills hands-on gets Tsarovsky truly excited about what he is doing. “You might not necessarily have a real experience in the classroom, but you have a very real experience right down the street.”

With the population of young people in Madison growing, Tsarovsky is optimistic about the future of the city. Tsarovsky wants students to know that although getting involved may seem daunting or time-consuming, there are a lot of ways to get involved in local government. “We need students out here,” Tsarovsky says. “We cannot wait for the older people to leave.” Tsarovsky suggests that students start by focusing on what they are interested in, such as transportation, housing, food, or community building, and get in contact with their alders or reach out to CANA and other local leading organizations to start making a difference in their area.

– Written by Clare Brogan

Subscribe to our newsletter