Cathy J. Cohen Receives the 2021 Hanes Walton, Jr. Career Award

The Hanes Walton, Jr. Career Award is presented by the American Political Science Association (APSA) in recognition of a political scientist whose lifetime of distinguished scholarship has made significant contributions to our understanding of racial and ethnic politics and illuminates the conditions under which diversity and intergroup tolerance thrive in democratic societies.  

Cathy J. Cohen is the David and Mary Winton Green Distinguished Service Professor in the College and the Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago. She formerly served as chair of the Department of Political Science, Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture, and Deputy Provost for Graduate Education at the University of Chicago. Cohen’s first academic position was at Yale University where she was the first African American woman to receive tenure in the Division of Social Science.  She received her B.A. from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. 

Cohen is the author of two books, The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (University of Chicago Press) and Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics (Oxford University Press).  She is also co-editor of the anthology Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader (NYU Press) with Kathleen Jones and Joan Tronto. Her articles have been published in numerous journals and edited volumes including the American Political Science ReviewPerspectives in Politics, NOMOSGLQSocial TextSouls, and the DuBois Review. Cohen’s article “Punks, Bulldagers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?” is the most widely cited article from the journal GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 

Cohen is the co-editor of a book series with Frederick Harris at Oxford University Press, entitled “Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities.” She founded and directs two public-facing research projects — the GenForward Survey Project and the Black Youth Project. Research from both projects has been routinely featured in the numerous media outlets including the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, NBC, NPR, Vox, and The Root 

Cohen is the recipient of numerous awards, including being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2018.  In 2020 she was awarded an Andrew Carnegie Foundation Fellowship. Cohen has also been awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Investigator’s Award and the Robert Wood Johnson Scholars in Health Policy Research Fellowship. She is the recipient of numerous major research grants, including awards from the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Gates Foundation. She currently sits on the boards of the Russell Sage Foundation and the Field Foundation in Chicago.  

In addition to her academic work, Cohen has been very active politically.  She was a founding board member and former co-chair of the board of the Audre Lorde Project in NY.  She was also on the board of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies (CLAGS) at CUNY and the Arcus Foundation.  Cohen was a founding member of Black AIDS Mobilization (BAM!) and was one of the core organizers of two international conferences “Black Nations / Queer Nations?” and “Race, Sex, Power.”  Cohen has also served as an active member in numerous organizations such as the Black Radical Congress, ACT UP New York, African American Women in Defense of Ourselves, Ella’s Daughters and Scholars for Social Justice. She also planned and hosted the convening of young Black activists in 2013 that lead to the establishment of the organization BYP100, an activist organization that has been central to Black movement politics in recent years.  

Citation from the Award Committee: 

Over the course of her career, through her mentorship, scholarship and activism, Cathy Cohen has had major impacts in and outside of the academy. For instance, Cathy has mentored some of the most prominent Black political activists and policy advocates in the United States, most notably, Charlene Carruthers (director of the Back Youth Project) and Dorian Warren (president of Community Change and co-chair of the Economic Security Project). Her academic mentorship is just as impressive. Cathy’s former students include some of the most dynamic Black and Latinx politics scholars in the country, ranging from Lisa Garcia Bedolla (Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Dean of the Graduate Division at UC Berkeley) to Jamila Michener (Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University), to rising stars such as Jennifer Jackson (Assistant Professor of Political Science at Syracuse University).  

In terms of her scholarship, Cathy has made several critical empirical, theoretical, and methodological contributions to the study of Racial and Ethnic Politics (REP). According to Google Scholar, her seminal mixed-method book, The Boundaries of Blackness, has been cited almost 2,000 times since its original publication in 1999. This now canonic work revealed how queer Black communities were doubly discriminated against, first by the broader American public because of their race, and secondly by the larger (straight) Black community because of their sexuality and HIV status. Within Gender and Queer Studies, Cathy’s groundbreaking 1997 article, “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens,” was equally as influential, as noted by the fact that in 2017 the National Women Studies Association honored this “paradigm-shifting” paper with a presidential session titled, “20 Years Since ‘Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens.” And of course, her most recent book, Democracy Remixed: Black Youth and the Future of American Politics, has gained widespread praise both in political science and in the interdisciplinary field of youth civic engagement.           

For all of these reasons and many more, the undersigned former and current students of hers believe that there is no other scholar more deserving of the Hanes Walton Career Award than Cathy J. Cohen.  


APSA thanks the committee members for their service: Chris Zepeda-Millan (Chair), UCLA; Dr. Maya Sen, Harvard University; and K. Tate, Brown University.