Political Science Now

APSA Member of the Month: Dr. Els de Graauw

Dr. Els de Graauw, Baruch College

Els de Graauw is Assistant Professor at Baruch College, the City University of New York, with an appointment in the Department of Political Science and teaching responsibilities also in the Austin W. Marxe School of Public and International Affairs.  Her research centers on the nexus of immigration, civil society organizations, (sub)urban politics, and public policy, with a focus on building institutional capacity for immigrant integration and representation. She has been an APSA member since 2000.

Why did you become a political scientist?

Dr. Els de Graauw: Back in the day, when I was working on my American Studies degree in the Netherlands, I could not have imagined that I would become a political science professor in the United States. However, a semester on exchange at UC Berkeley where I was also able to do research for my master thesis on the political economy of the US-Mexico border really piqued my interest in political science. I wanted to better understand the myriad political rules and regulations on both sides of the border that affected the lives of maquiladora workers. I soon found myself applying to political science PhD programs in the United States and have since dedicated myself to studying the politics of immigration and immigrant integration. I initially focused on these issues in an international and comparative perspective but have since shifted my gaze to cities, where I feel I can better grasp the political and policy processes that allow (and prevent) immigrants to gain a voice in political and public affairs in the United States.

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

Dr. Els de Graauw: I first joined APSA as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed grad student, when I was looking for opportunities to connect with experts in the field. My first APSA meeting, I remember, was overwhelming and also a bit disappointing. I just didn’t know where to find “my” crowd of immigration scholars or how to take advantage of all that APSA meetings have to offer also in terms of socializing over coffee or wine and dinner. I went to panels from dawn to dusk, doing little else, and I left my first APSA meeting feeling exhausted. Since then, I’ve learned to do things differently, thereby making APSA meetings a whole lot more enjoyable and productive. I’ve also worked with others to create a space for migration and citizenship scholars, initially through a working group, then a related group, and then we founded our own Section on Migration and Citizenship. Now the highlights of my APSA meetings include the panels this section creates, as well as its business meetings and fabulous receptions. I served as Section Co-President and then Secretary for a total of four years, which also allowed me to better connect with APSA staff and scholars in other sections and subfields.

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

Dr. Els de Graauw: I find it challenging to be a political scientist in the current political environment. Especially given the recent changes in immigration policies and practices that negatively affect the individuals and organizations that I study, work with, and care about, I’ve struggled to find a balance between being a scholar and an active and engaged member of the community. It is mostly an issue of having too few hours in the day to do all that I want to do. I’ve had to do some introspection of where my time and energies are best spent in the months and years ahead. Among other things, I decided to get more involved on my campus with organizing events and working with students and other faculty to shine a light on current immigration issues and to change university policies affecting immigrant students. That way, I can combine my role as educator and advocate while keeping my sanity in these trying political times.

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

Dr. Els de Graauw: My advice would be for students to be proactive and to be their own best advocate. As a student, I was shy and reluctant to ask for advice and mentorship, to ask for teaching and funding opportunities, to ask for writing opportunities, and to ask for whatever else I needed to thrive as a student. I felt that I was imposing on people. Over the years, though, I’ve learned that people want to help if you reach out to them, and wonderful relationships have developed since my first interactions with my supporters. I now teach all my students to develop their asking muscles, and I, in turn, do what I can to provide what they need to succeed.