Noah Burke, a Republican, and Aidan Levinson, a Democrat, spend very little time arguing about politics.
Roommates for more than a year, their biggest squabble is about household chores. With a smile, Levinson, SPA/BA ’23, said he wished Burke, SIS/BA ’22, could be a little tidier.
“He really doesn’t like if there’s any water on the bathroom floor after a shower,” Burke retorted. “He’s like a 24/7 cleaner.”
And while a stray dish or an errant towel is generally the apex of their arguments, Levinson and Burke could easily be mistaken for intransigent foes on opposite sides of the political aisle amid these divided times.
“You live with a Republican?” Levinson has heard.
But both recognize political positions need not be apocalyptic. They’re friends first, and they hope that bond and their work together as student associates at the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics serves as an example that civility is alive and well amongst the next generation of political changemakers.
The institute was established in 2018 with a $10 million gift to the Change Can’t Wait campaign from Jeff Sine, SIS/BA ’76, and his wife, Samira. It capitalizes on our DC location to bring together experts, scholars, and students to tackle pressing issues in a way that promotes collaborative solutions.
“The bipartisanship they’ve shown both in their friendship and in coming together to advance common goals is a perfect example of the collaboration between competing viewpoints that’s at the core of the Sine’s mission,” said executive director Amy Dacey, SPA/MA ’95. “They’ve made invaluable contributions to Sine during their time at AU,” including the poll they developed this fall with YouGov on political polarization among young adults. “And [they] have been responsible for some of my favorite moments leading the institute.”
Levinson grew up in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania—the most swing area in the most swing state in the country, he said, where compromise is essential. “Turning someone away because of their political affiliation and not getting down and dirty talking about policy is very foreign to me,” he said.
He started working in politics as a 15-year-old following the 2016 election, helping local candidates in his hometown develop tech savvy campaigning through digital advertising and texting. He then worked on the 2018 campaign for Representative Susan Wild (D-PA), SPA/BA ’78, and became a delegate for the Democratic National Convention in 2020.
“He loves Pennsylvania, and he loves Joe Biden,” Burke said, “I [see] how hard he works, how much he believes in his state and in democracy. He gets calls all day from political people in Pennsylvania. We disagree on policy, but I admire how hard he works.”
Levinson joined Sine in spring 2020 as a student associate for former Representative Susan Molinari (R-NY) during her fellowship. A moderate, Molinari was a vice chair of the House Republican Conference and gave the keynote address at the 1996 Republican National Convention. But when the Staten Islander endorsed Joe Biden in 2020 and spoke at the Democratic National Convention, Levinson—who later chaired Sine’s student advisory committee—got an education in bipartisanship.
Burke’s interest in politics started as a child in Loudon County, Virginia. His father worked for the federal government and gridlock and shutdowns made politics unavoidable. He remembers attending a rally during Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and supporting moderate Republican leaders who sought common ground with the other side. Burke volunteered and later interned for Representative Barbara Comstock (R-VA) while still in high school. He also served as president of the AU College Republicans before stepping away after his junior year.
Burke—whom Levinson described as thoughtful and level-headed when it comes to policies—came aboard Sine in spring 2021. He first worked as a student associate for US Chamber of Commerce CEO Suzanne Clark and later for former Comstock, who served his home district until 2019. He said Dacey solicited his input and that of other Republicans on who to recruit as Sine fellows. The 2023 cohort includes two Republicans (outgoing Arizona governor Doug Ducey and former California representative Mimi Walters) and one Democrat (former New York City mayor Bill de Blasio).
Levinson and Burke, who began rooming together in fall 2021, know where each other stands on issues. They don’t ignore the divisions, they discuss policy, and engage in civil discussions. “At the end of the day, we know there are issues we’re pretty set on,” Burke said. “But there are plenty of things we have intellectual conversations about.”
The roommates’ relationship is proof that, when it comes to politics, “there is a path to find your way and have civil discourse.” Except when it comes to dirty dishes.