Jay Hartley: College politician

Ellie Cowen, Staff Writer

Tulane senior Jay Hartley is the first non-binary National President of College Democrats and Co-Chair of the Tulane Undergraduate Assembly. (Courtesy of Jay Hartley)

By their own initiative, 7-year-old Jay Hartley was door-to-door canvassing for Hillary Clinton in Iowa. More than a decade later, they are the first nonbinary president of College Democrats of America and co-chair of the Tulane Undergraduate Assembly. 

Hartley was born outside of Chicago to Jamaican immigrants. A political TV ad for Clinton sparked a desire in the young child to get involved, which meant begging their parents to drive to Iowa to campaign for the Democratic primary candidate in 2008.  

“I completely fell in love with her,” Hartley said. “I cried when she lost pretty much both times in the primary and then again when Barack Obama won [the primary].” 

In high school, Hartley continued issue-based organizing. They worked to pass a bill in the Illinois legislature to guarantee LGBTQ+ education in all public schools. Despite evolving political views, Hartley returned to support Clinton in the 2016 election cycle. 

Hartley chose Tulane University for its engaged political community. They joined the chapter of CDA, rising through the ranks to president of the Louisiana chapter and, as of last September’s election, national president of CDA. 

“I get to do a lot of really interesting things,” Hartley said. “Everything from signwave behind Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, get to talk with some pretty high level people at the Democratic National Committee and also just help young people all across the country organize in their communities, be grassroots organizers and create the change that they want to see.”

Hartley also became involved with Undergraduate Student Government when they arrived at Tulane, working on fellow delegate DaSean Spencer’s campaigns for senator and vice president of student life. After seeing discrimination firsthand on the campaign trail, Hartley was first to call for the abolition and reworking of student government. 

“During that election cycle, we experienced, primarily [Spencer] as the candidate, anti-Blackness on this campus,” Hartley said. “It was really a wake up call.” 

Hartley sat on the Evolution Committee this past summer and met with consultants and community groups on campus to completely rebuild student government. The inaugural body of TUA rolled out this semester with 21 elected delegates and co-chairs Hartley and Spencer.

“We frame ourselves as an explicitly anti-racist student advocacy organization,” Hartley said. “We’re at the cutting edge of what student government and SGAs across the country can look like.” 

Hartley said college students are uniquely suited to drive social change because they can break down issues piece by piece. They encouraged students to find a group on campus that speaks to their interests and get involved. 

“We understand how essential these issues are and the radical change that we want to see in the country and in the world overall,” Hartley said. “The first thing I would suggest to a Tulane student is to find your political home and get to work.”

After graduating this spring, Hartley will be moving to Washington D.C. 

“So a couple more weeks, a couple more months in New Orleans, which I’m really sad about,” Hartley said. “But also very excited for what comes next.”

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