Member of the Month: Dr. Nadia E. Brown, Purdue University

Dr. Nadia E. Brown
Purdue University

Department of Political Science & African American Studies and Research Center
Member since 2003

Dr. Nadia E. Brown (Ph.D., Rutgers University) is a University Scholar and Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Purdue University. She specializes in Black women’s politics and holds a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. Dr. Brown’s research interests lie broadly in identity politics, legislative studies, and Black women’s studies. While trained as a political scientist, her scholarship on intersectionality seeks to push beyond disciplinary constraints to think more holistically about the politics of identity. Brown’s Sisters in the Statehouse: Black Women and Legislative Decision Making (Oxford University press, 2014) has been awarded the National Conference of Black Political Scientists’ 2015 W.E.B. DuBois Distinguished Book Award, 2015 Anna Julia Cooper Award from the Association for the Study of Black Women and Politics, and the 2015 Center for Research on Diversity and Inclusion at Purdue University Faculty Research Award. Along with Sarah Allen Gershon, Professor Brown co-edited Distinct Identities: Minority Women in U.S. Politics (Routledge Press 2016). She regularly teaches the following courses: Black Political Participation; Black Women Rising; Introduction to African American Studies; and Race and Ethnicity in American Politics. Professor Brown is also the co-lead editor of Politics, Groups and Identities. She is also an RBSI alum (class of 2003) and chair of the RBSI Advisory Committee, as well as a former member on the Committee on the Status of Women.

“I wanted to use research as a tool to give voice to marginalized groups that were perceived as powerless, but were using their social locations to challenge the power inequities that governed their lives.”

Why did you become a Political Scientist? 

Dr. Nadia Brown: I became a political scientist because I was/am enthralled by examining power – who has it, who does not and why some groups gain relative forms of power while others do not. I specifically wanted to understand the positionality of Black women, a group who I saw in my own community as operating within a space of limited power but yet who engaged politics on their own terms to negotiate power structures. Ultimately, I wanted to use research as a tool to give voice to marginalized groups that were perceived as powerless, but were using their social locations to challenge the power inequities that governed their lives.

Why did you join APSA and why do you continue to stay involved?

Dr. Nadia Brown: The Ralph Bunche Summer Institute changed my life – this program is the reason why I am a political scientist, joined APSA, and am an active member. I credit my scholarly foundation to the exposure that I received at Bunche and its network for sustaining me in the profession. APSA’s support of the program is invaluable for scholars like myself and has helped to transform the discipline into a more diverse and inclusive place in its over 30 years of existence. This program not only encourages underrepresented minority students to pursue a career in political science, but it gives them the tools, network, and confidence to succeed in the discipline. I have considered it to be a pure joy to give back to this program as an alum in many ways. One of my professional goals is to continue to advance the mission of the RBSI program and work towards its long-term sustainability.

What is the most challenging aspect of being a political scientist? 

Dr. Nadia Brown: The most challenging and frustrating part of being a political scientist has also been one of my most rewarding experiences in the discipline. I am honored to work with a group of dedicated scholars who are using our expertise to study, change and impact power inequities within political science. My work with the #MeTooPoliSci Collective, the Women’s Caucus for Political Science, Women Also Know Stuff, and People of Color Also Know Stuff has exposed me to how necessary it is for political scientists to use our unique skillset to critique and change the status quo within our discipline. This has been tremendously hard work. I’ve grown as a scholar, friend, colleague, and leader because of my work within these spaces.

Dr. Nadia Brown at the 2018 Annual Meeting & Exhibition in Boston, attending the APSA Diversity and Inclusion Hackathon with a Hackathon Program Chair, Mala Htun (left), and former American Political Science Association (APSA) President, Kathy Thelen (center).

“My passion for changing the discipline by speaking truth to power, building organizations, increasing the capacity for institutions to respond to the needs of the marginalized, creating space for intersectional solidarity among diverse groups of political scientists (broadly defined), and disrupting a disciplinary culture that remains largely blind to White hetero-patriarchal privilege has been extremely challenging. ”

Learning how to carve out spaces that are effectively calling attention to power imbalances that allow for the continued othering of historically marginalized groups and challenging a pervasive culture of sexual harassment, misconduct, and violence led to several sleepless nights. My passion for changing the discipline by speaking truth to power, building organizations, increasing the capacity for institutions to respond to the needs of the marginalized, creating space for intersectional solidarity among diverse groups of political scientists (broadly defined), and disrupting a disciplinary culture that remains largely blind to White hetero-patriarchal privilege has been extremely challenging.  As a mid-career scholar, I am a painfully aware that some of the activist choices that I have made will negatively impact my future career opportunities. However, I remain steadfast in my commitment to social justice within the discipline in spite of the undesirable consequences that my actions may have. What good is having tenure if one cannot stand up for just causes and challenge biased structures that dictate our careers as political scientists?

If you could give one piece of advice to someone in their graduate/undergraduate years, what would it be and why?

Dr. Nadia Brown: Being smart and working hard will only take you so far. Work to build an intellectual community and engage with a network of scholars who are supportive of your academic endeavor. Furthermore, be a good citizen of this intellectual community by offering your time, skills, and resources to make the discipline a better place than the one you entered. I am reminded of an African proverb (whose origins are unknown) that instructs “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” To be successful in this profession, as well as life, requires a great team.

Outside of political science, tell us something interesting about yourself. 

Dr. Nadia Brown: Ha! I’m deep into the throes of the #AcademicMama lifestyle. I am currently preparing to bring my third child in four years into the world within the next couple of weeks. All the interesting parts of me seem to be wrapped up in being a mother to three baby Black feminists.

Video: Watch Professor Nadia Brown on C-SPAN discussing her thoughts on the increase of women and minority candidates running in the 2018 midterm elections. Share and watch the video.