2018 Election Reflection Series: The Cora Brown Lecture Series – American State & Local Government Course at Howard University

2018 Election Reflection Series Background

Prior to the 2018 election, APSA’s Diversity and Inclusion Programs Office issued a call for submissions for a new PS Now series entitled 2018 Election Reflections. The views expressed in this series are those of the authors and contributors alone and do not represent the views of the APSA. Read more about the Election Reflection Series below, after the feature essay.

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The Cora Brown Lecture Series – American State & Local Government Course at Howard University

By Keneshia N. Grant, PhD, Howard University 

In the past, scholarship in American politics literature pointed to a lack of women and racial minorities in politics. However, following the 2016 election, there has been increasing attention to Black women as dependable political participants. As anticipation was building for the 2018 midterm elections this summer, I decided to celebrate Black women as important contributors to the American political process in the classroom. Therefore, I created The Cora Mae Brown Lecture Series (CBLS) as part of the Fall 2018 iteration of my American State and Local Government course (#HUPOLS011) at Howard University. The series is named for the late Michigan State Senator Cora Mae Brown. In 1952, Brown became the first Black woman elected to a state senate when she won a seat in Michigan’s state senate.

My goals for the series were two-fold. First, I wanted to highlight how Black women provide an outsized contribution to American democracy and politics at all levels, beyond their involvement as voters. Second, and more importantly, I wanted to motivate and encourage undergraduate students at Howard University, especially Black women students, to consider running for office and pursuing careers in public service. Therefore, I invited Black women from the Washington, D.C. region to share insights about their work in states and communities.

“I felt as though this State & Local Government class taught me life lessons that will be helpful later in life.” -HUPOLS011 Student

The CBLS has highlighted the political careers and accomplishments of Black women who serve in elected and appointed positions in their state and local governments. I organized the course to have speakers visit during weeks that corresponded to our course content. For example, during the week on Courts, Crime, and Correctional Policy, the students heard from Judge Shirley Watts and Chief Deputy Attorney General Natalie Ludaway. During the weeks on state and local legislatures, we heard from Prince George’s County Commissioner Andrea Harrison and Maryland State Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins. A 2006 candidate for Mayor of Washington, D.C., the Honorable Marie Johns, spoke to students about her experience campaigning for political office in a large metropolitan area. During the week on Bureaucratic Politics, students heard from Beverly Perry—a senior advisor to Washington, DC’s mayor—and Pamela Creekmur—the Chief Health Officer and Director of the Department of Health in Prince George’s County. President and CEO of the United Way of the Washington Area, Rosie Allen-Herring, spoke to the class about the role of non-profit organizations in state and local government. The Chief External Officer at Achievement First Schools, Fatimah Barker, visited to discuss the intersection of politics and education for K-12 schools and Dr. Tashni-Ann Dubroy visited to discuss the politics of education for public universities.

I made time for the speakers by employing a flipped model for the course; with the traditional classroom lectures narrated as PowerPoints and made available on-line When we did not have speakers, the class engaged in structured activities and student-led discussions about course content. In preparation for each speaker, students were required to research the speaker and write three questions that engaged the course content. During each session, we used the students’ pre-written questions to deepen our discussion with our guests.

I strongly believe that representation matters in political science education. My students find it easier to relate to course content when they know exactly how it affects their lives. Seeing people who look like them doing the work of the government makes it seem less distant. Julia Osagie, a student in the class who is also a member of the Howard University Board of Trustees, commented, “This class not only provides the much needed exposure, but access to these women in forums that can provide the inspiration we seek.” Responding to a question about which speaker was her favorite, another student said “Delegate Wilkins made my goals not only feel obtainable but showed me that Black women can excel in the political arena.”

The CBLS helped students understand the importance of the 2018 mid-term election by demonstrating that elections have consequences for representation in all parts of government. A number of the guests described how they earned their appointments by working on local campaigns and/or building relationships with elected officials. I am hopeful that every student left my course this semester with much more knowledge about the technical aspects state and local government and energized to go out into the world and change it for themselves!

Learn more about Professor Grant’s research and teaching.

Cora Brown Lecture Series (CBLS) Speakers:

1. The Honorable Marie Johns, September 12
Former Deputy Administrator of the US Small Business Administration and candidate for mayor of Washington, DC

2. The Honorable Jheanelle Wilkins, September 24
Delegate to the State Legislature, representing Maryland’s 20th district

3. The Honorable Andrea C. Harrison, October 1
County Councilwoman for District Five of Prince George’s County

4. The Honorable Natalie Ludaway, October 10
Chief Deputy Attorney General, Washington D.C.

5. The Honorable Shirley Watts, October 15
Judge, Maryland Court of Appeals

6. The Honorable Rosie Allen-Herring, October 22
President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Way of the National Capital Area

7. The Honorable Beverly Perry, October 24
Senior Advisor to Muriel Bowser, Mayor of Washington, DC

8. The Honorable Pamela B. Creekmur, October 31
Health Officer/Director, Prince George’s County Health Department

9. The Honorable Fatimah S. Barker, November 5
Chief External Officer, Achievement First Schools

10. The Honorable Tashni-Ann Dubroy, November 14
Executive Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, Howard University

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About the 2018 Election Reflection Series

The call asked submitters to respond to one or two of the following questions:

  1. Tell us about an original research project, article, or finding that you are working on, which sheds light upon political behavior and/or public opinion and the 2018 Campaign and Election.
  2. Tell us about how you have incorporated themes relevant to diversity, inclusion, equity, or representation and the 2018 campaign and election into your political science teaching, research and/or service? 
  3. What group(s) of the electorate does your research focus on and what policy issue(s) proved to be salient to them in the 2018 Campaigns and Elections? 
  4. What role can/does political science research play in helping to make sense of the 2018 Campaigns and Elections?

 All submissions were welcome. We were especially interested in featuring content that addressed the political behavior and opinion of individuals from the following groups: underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, women, individuals with disabilities, first generation Americans, Indigenous communities, and the LGBT community. All submissions were reviewed by APSA staff political scientists.

What resulted is a series, covering a diverse collection of political science topics ranging across such sub-fields as public opinion, political behavior, political parties, race, ethnicity and politics, gender and politics, Indigenous Politics, teaching and learning political science and classroom discussion strategies, and the complex intersectionalities contained therein. Additionally, a variety of research methodologies are brought to bear to address and shed light upon these topics and research questions.

We understand that this series is but a snapshot of the political science scholarship being done on the 2018 Campaign and Election. However, it is our hope that these pieces will contribute to election-related scholarship, critical thought, and informed discussion in the weeks and months to come. To that end, we invite your comments. You can find more information and the complete series at 2018 Election Reflections.

Kimberly A. Mealy, PhD
Senior Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs
American Political Science Association

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