EVANSTON - A new academic center at Northwestern University aims to foster research, dialogue and analysis regarding the ways in which democracy, diversity and politics interact in the United States and in nations around the globe.
Housed in Northwestern’s department of political science, the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy will focus on best practices in promoting equal citizenship, the attitudinal bases of group solidarity and inter-group tolerance, and how governments, nonprofits and corporations can work to close the socioeconomic inequalities between identity-based groups in diverse democracies.
The center will be led by Alvin Tillery, associate professor of political science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. Nineteen faculty affiliates are helping to build the center’s core intellectual initiatives, with a particularly strong cohort of scholars working on questions of racial inequality and intergroup tolerance, Tillery said.
“For example, we have outstanding scholars in the group who all do important research on how urban communities will really be the key to the future of America’s multi-racial democracy,” said Tillery, whose research focuses on social movements and their impact on American politics as well as presidential leadership on civil rights and diversity issues.
And with experts in areas such as religion and politics and the politics of gender, Tillery said the center has the ability to sponsor programs and develop projects that draw on intersectional approaches to research.
Tillery said a formal center was a way to enhance the department’s existing race, ethnicity and politics sub-field, which ranks among the best in the country, while simultaneously bolstering the scholarly community’s ability to address complex issues related to the role that gender, sexuality and religion play in democratic politics.
First on the center’s agenda is fostering conversations about the resurgence of racialized politics in the United States and around the globe.
“In the wake of President Obama’s election in 2008, many pundits claimed that we had entered a post-racial era in the U.S.,” Tillery said. “Yet, in this most recent election cycle, we saw the resurgence of explicit racial appeals in presidential politics. Unfortunately, we have also seen a spike in hate crimes against people of color, the LGBTQ community and religious minorities.”
The center will sponsor two annual events. The first, the Strengthening Diverse Democracies Symposium, will bring together scholars in October to discuss a current issue in the politics of diversity within democracies. They also will work with the Center for Global Culture and Communication in Northwestern’s School of Communication to sponsor the annual Globalizing Race Studies Workshop. There, themes related to the global dimension of racial politics, such as immigration or racial inequalities, will be examined.
In addition, the new center will have a polling and data initiative, funding flash surveys to provide focused, specific data on questions related to the politics of diversity in the United States.
“We hope this will help us drive conversation nationally about a number of important and timely issues,” Tillery said.
Added Tillery: “Despite increased progress in our democracy and President Obama being a harbinger of brighter days ahead, there is still plenty more to work through, especially as our nation moves toward becoming a majority-minority population in 2050. We felt Northwestern could be a hub where people could have serious conversations about these issues and pursue answers.”