How Diversity Matters and Changes Institutions
By Kristen Smole, Interviewer and Valeria Sinclair-Chapman, Purdue University
Legislative politics was seen traditionally as a male-dominated subfield in political science. Do you think the landscape has changed or is changing? More broadly, how has your identity as a woman of color shaped the way you navigate the discipline?
I kind of fell into the study of legislative politics. I loved the study of institutions and rules—how knowing how the rules work helps protect people already in power but also could present opportunities to transform political spaces. I dipped my toe into studying public policy under Randall Ripley and into parties under Paul Beck, but it seems that I always came back to legislative studies. My first legislative politics courses were with Samuel Patterson. He was well known for the study of comparative legislatures. In a course that I took with him, I floated the argument in a paper that there might be some democratic tenets in single-party legislatures with an examination of Ghana and Japan. I did fine on the paper, but the feedback that I received was mostly dismissive. Now, years later, I can see that there were major flaws and lots of naiveté in my argument but, at the time, I mostly just felt dismissed and out of place.