Melissa R. Michelson (Ph.D. Yale University) is Professor of Political Science at Menlo College in Atherton, CA. She is coauthor of Living the Dream: New Immigration Policies and the Lives of Undocumented Latino Youth (Paradigm Press, 2014) and Mobilizing Inclusion: Transforming the Electorate Through Get-out-the-Vote Campaigns (Yale University Press, 2012), winner of the 2013 American Political Science Association’s Ralph Bunche Award and the 2013 American Political Science Association Best Book Award in the Field of Race, Ethnicity, and Politics. In addition, she has published over three dozen journal articles and a dozen book chapters, and has an active research agenda in the fields of Latino Politics, voter mobilization, and LGBT rights.
Tell us about your involvement with #WomenAlsoKnowStuff.
Michelson: I’m a board member of Women Also Know Stuff. When Samara first launched the website, she reached out to women and asked them to upload their information and spread the word. The immediate response was so overwhelming that very quickly she decided that there needed to be more infrastructure to maintain the site, and I was one of the women she asked to help do that. At first there were eight of us, and then ten. We coordinate our activities but we also play to our strengths. I’ve taken a larger role than some others in terms of the writing of a recent grant proposal that we submitted to the NSF; other women are taking the lead on the website and our twitter feed.
In addition to joining your list, what else do you recommend women political scientists do to share their expertise with broader audiences?
Michelson: Definitely women should join Women Also Know Stuff and keep their profiles updated. Not everyone is comfortable being contacted by the media, but folks are also using the site to plan their syllabi and look for women to participate in other professional activities, and there’s a question on the site that asks participants whether they’re willing to do media. So I want to make sure women know that they should be on the site regardless of their answer to that question. They should be on the site in order to help push back against gender bias in the profession. Other ways to share expertise include posting to blogs–there are more well-known blogs like the Monkey Cage that are really making an impact, but also smaller-audience blogs more aimed at other political scientists, such as The New West, the blog for the Western Political Science Association. Another option that I think works well for many people is to have an active Twitter presence. And then of course there’s the option of writing op-ed pieces for local newspapers. Most institutions have a PR department that can help with this, but even on your own you can write a piece and pitch it to your local editorial page editor. If it’s tied to ongoing events and raises a new perspective, you have a better chance of getting the piece published than you may think.
What can women political scientists do to foster the next generation of women experts?
Michelson: Fostering the next generation means making a personal commitment to mentor and advocate for other women. There’s so much that women, and men, can do to help. Include women authors in your syllabi. Approach junior women scholars at meetings and ask them about their work–make them feel included and valued. Invite them along for those crucial post-panel group outings to local restaurants so that they can network. Invite younger women to work with you and write with you and publish with you. Offer to read what they’re working on and offer constructive criticism to help them get that journal article acceptance or that book contract. Invite them to speak to your classes and participate in panels and conferences that you are organizing.
Tell us more about your background and work in political science.
Michelson: I did my graduate work on presidential power and public opinion, and I had the great luck to be the first PhD student to finish under Don Green, who continues to be a friend and supporter. I use him as a model when I talk about mentoring. He has done all of those things that I just mentioned, and I am so grateful for his mentoring. Just when I was finishing up, in 1994, the issue of Latino politics was coming to the foreground, and I shifted my research away from presidential politics and into Latino politics. Another of my professors in graduate school, Edward Tufte, once said to me that you should think of your PhD as a license to study what you want to study, that you shouldn’t feel like you can only study the topic you were interested in as a graduate student. So I took his advice. I continue to study Latino politics, but I’ve also branched out into other topics like LGBT politics and election policy. I think it’s important to stay passionate about what you do, and branching out in this way keeps me excited about my work. I also think it’s important and valid for political scientists to try to make the world a better place. When I was an undergraduate student, one of my professors, Charles V. Hamilton, told me to go to graduate school. I was planning a career as a journalist (writing about politics, of course). He had me in his office several times, and he told me that if I really wanted to change the world then I should become a professor. I don’t know how he knew, but he was right. That’s another mentor I will always be grateful for. So I’m always striving, in my scholarship, to not only contribute to our understanding of the world but also to contribute to making that world a more inclusive and just one to live in. That’s true of my work in Latino politics, in LGBT politics, and election policy. Everyone should be treated equally. Everyone should have a voice in the political arena. Everyone should feel welcome and included.
Tell us about a recent research project.
Michelson: I’ve just finished up a book with Brian F. Harrison called Listen, We Need to Talk: How to Change Attitudes about LGBT Rights that describes a set of experiments we conducted to test how to change people’s attitudes on marriage equality, LGBT non-discrimination laws, and transgender rights, using what we call our Theory of Dissonant Identity Priming. We found that people are often willing to change their minds about LGBT rights when they find out that others with whom they share an identity are supporters of those rights, particularly when told about support from a leader of the group, and particularly if they find the information somewhat surprising. It was so rewarding to do that work, and we’re optimistic that the book will help people have conversations going forward that will continue to change minds and lead to wider support for those rights. The book is being published by Oxford University Press and will be out in January. A few of our experiments, focused on the shared identity that many folks have as fans of professional football, is forthcoming in the October issue of PS: Political Science & Politics. We’re really excited about that piece.
Look for more profiles from Women Also Know Stuff editorial board members in the coming weeks.