Sean Spicer ’93 named White House press secretary and communications director

Sean Spicer '93
Sean Spicer '93

Sean Spicer, a 1993 graduate of Connecticut College, has been named White House press secretary and White House communications director by President-elect Donald J. Trump. Spicer will also serve as an assistant to the president.

Spicer, who majored in government at the College, has served as the Republican National Committee communications director since 2011 and chief strategist since 2015. He previously served as assistant United States trade representative for media and public affairs in the George W. Bush administration, communications director for the House Republican Conference, communications director for the House Budget Committee, and the National Republican Congressional Committee’s director of incumbent retention. 

As White House press secretary, Spicer will be the primary spokesperson for the United States government administration, especially with regard to the president, senior executives and policies. As communications director, he will be responsible for promoting the agenda of the administration and leading its media campaign.

William Frasure, the Lucretia L. Allyn Professor of Government and International Relations at Connecticut College, said Spicer’s appointment is truly remarkable.

“The most important journalists in America will be sitting before him every day. Aside from Trump's, his will be one of the most listened-to voices in the country,” he said.

With televised press briefings, 24-hour news cycles and an unprecedented public demand for information, the modern press secretary plays a key role in the success of an administration, said Connecticut College Trustee Martha Joynt Kumar '63, an emeritus professor of political science at Towson University and expert in presidential-press relations, White House communications operations and presidential transitions.

“It’s about so much more than just providing information on daily operation. The press secretary has the opportunity to try to persuade and not just inform,” said Kumar, the author of Managing the President’s Message: The White House Communications Operation.

The role is particularly challenging, Kumar said, because the press secretary has to simultaneously serve and balance the needs of the president, the White House staff and the press.

“It’s really important for a press secretary to have the confidence of the president and the staff—and particularly the White House chief of staff. Spicer has that, so he is well positioned,” Kumar said.

Frasure, who taught Spicer in several classes, remembers him as an enthusiastic student and “a great talker” who could hold his own in any classroom discussion. 

In August, Spicer told The Washington Post that his political ambitions trace back to his time at Connecticut College. Surrounded by mostly liberal classmates, he began to identify as a Republican, he told the Post. He got involved with student government and remembers working to ban smoking in a dining hall and lobbying for cable TV in the residence halls.

During his junior year, Spicer studied away at American University in Washington, D.C. One of his professors there was Conn alumnus Richard Semiatin ’80.

"Sean Spicer was a student in my Spring 1992 Washington Semester class,” remembers Semiatin, an assistant professor of political science and academic director of American politics and policy at American University. “He demonstrated a keen interest in politics from the start. You could already tell that he had an innate understanding of the realities and workings of politics. He worked hard and understood the process of building a career.

“Here is someone who took nothing for granted and took initiative whenever it presented itself.”

Spicer, who grew up in Rhode Island, earned a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the U.S. Naval War College in 2012. He is a frequent guest on news and political talk programs on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. His official RNC bio touts his willingness to partner with his Democrat counterparts to raise money for good causes; in his Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “wicked Red Sox/ Patriots fan.”

In his new position, Spicer will play a critical role in representing the president and the agenda of the administration.

“The way policy is articulated is often very, very important,” Frasure said. “Sean will be briefed on virtually everything that is going on. He’ll be a witness to history—and a participant in it.”

January 6, 2017