Political Science Now

Nadia E. Brown Encourages Women in Politics to Practice Mentorship & Self-Advocacy

Nadia E. Brown is the Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science & African American Studies Program at Purdue University where she dedicates her research and expertise on political behavior and minority representation. Brown is an editorial board member of the women’s political science experts database, Women Also Know Stuff, an online database dedicated to promoting the work of women political scientists.

See what advice Dr. Brown gives to women in political science and why it is important to foster the next generation of experts.

Tell us about your involvement with Women Also Know Stuff.

Brown: As part of the Women Also Know Stuff editorial board, I contribute to the group in many ways. I’ve worked on the NSF grant proposal and our article for PS. But I primarily serve as a liaison of sorts between #WAKS and the American Political Science Association (APSA). I use my leadership positions in the Women’s Caucus for Political Science and the Committee Status for Women in the Profession as a way to connect APSA initiatives with the mission of Women Also Know Stuff. Because my research and advocacy are primarily centered on women of color, I use my positions to bring attention to specific issues that minority women face in the discipline.

What can women political scientists do to foster the next generation of women experts?

Brown: Senior women must continue to use their positions to serve as advocates for more junior scholars and call out wrongs and biases wherever they may be. Challenging racism, sexism, homophobia, etc in its many forms helps to make our discipline a more inclusive space where political scientists from various background and identities can thrive. In order to make our discipline more welcome to people of different background and identities, we need to continue efforts like #WAKS that comforts implicit (as well as explicit) biases.

Next, mentoring is key and comes in a myriad forms. I have had the fortunate opportunity to be mentored by dynamic women in the profession who have helped to shape my career. There is not a doubt in my mind that I am where I am today because of these successful mentorship relationships that I’ve built and sustained over my twelve years in the discipline. The significance of good mentorship is immeasurable when it comes to learning how to navigate academia as well as becoming connected to those “in the know.” Strong role models who are actively challenging biases and norms within our discipline will aid the next generation of women experts. As such, junior women can replicate these efforts as well as develop their own strategies for making women experts more visible in our profession.

In addition to joining your list, what else do you recommend women political scientists do to share their expertise with broader audiences?

Brown: Women political scientists should step outside of comfort zones – accepting opportunities to speak with media, recognizing ourselves as experts, advocating for our place in the discipline, mentoring junior scholars and graduate students, and/or challenging gendered norms, stereotypes and marginalization within our discipline. Of course, this is a delicate balance because women – particularly, women of color – are often asked to perform service work more than others.

Tell us more about your background and work in political science.

Brown: I received my PhD in Political Science in 2010 from Rutgers University, with major fields in Women and Politics and American Politics after obtaining a BA in Political Science from Howard University in 2004.  I hold a graduate certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. My research interests lie broadly in identity politics, state and local politics, and Black women’s studies. While trained as a political scientist, my scholarship on intersectionality seeks to push beyond disciplinary constraints to think more holistically about the politics of identity. I came to Purdue in 2013 after initially teaching at St. Louis University. I was promoted to associate professor with tenure at Purdue University in April 2015.

My first book, 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. Du Bois 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 (Georgia State University), I co-edited Distinct Identities: Minority Women in U.S. Politics (Routledge Press, 2016), which features scholarship on the intersection of race, ethnicity and gender in American Politics. I am also the author of numerous peer-reviewed articles, book chapters, and book reviews that focus on identity politics in general and Black women’s politics more specifically.

Tell us about a recent research project.

Brown: My interest in the embodiment of race/gender embodiment of Black women is the was sparked in the research collected for a recent article,  The Politics of Appearance. My second solo authored book will speak to broader implications for how Black women may navigate electoral politics in a supposed “post-racial” America. Voters and constituents assess Black women candidates’ on how they perform their race and gender. As such, hairstyle and skin tone are used as proxies for the political preferences, racial and gender identity, femininity, sexual orientation, and social class of these candidates and elected officials. The findings of this study illustrate the importance of an intersectional approach to Black feminist research on politics by paying attention to the interventions of body politics, American political culture, gender and racialized performance, and Black women’s stereotypes.

I’m currently working on co-authored book manuscript with Sarah Allen Gershon (Georgia State University) entitled Media Marginalization: Press Coverage of Minority Women in Politics. This study identifies the presence of and reasons for systematic differences in press attention to minority women political elites (compared with their male and White peers). Ultimately, we hope to shed light on the unique barriers faced by minority women seeking elective office and offer pathways for rectifying these problems.