The Scholar as Citizen

Guest post by Deondra Rose, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

As an assistant professor of public policy and political science at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, I spend my time researching and teaching courses related to the ways in which politics and policy shape each other.  My work focuses particularly on how lawmakers have used—or have failed to use—higher education policy to improve the life chances of marginalized groups.  In my book, Citizens By Degree: Higher Education Policy and the Changing Gender Dynamics of Higher Education Policy (Oxford University Press 2018), I argue that by passing policies like need-based financial aid (i.e., Pell Grants and Perkins Loans) and the Title IX prohibition on sex discrimination in college admissions and programming, lawmakers have played an important role in shaping women’s access to higher education and the citizenship-enhancing social, economic, and political benefits that tend to accompany it.  One of my new projects considers how Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have contributed to the development of African American political leaders in the United States.  As distinctive educational institutions that emerged during the 19th and early 20th centuries in response to structural racism that limited African Americans’ access to higher education, they embraced a mission of investing in black Americans and empowering them as they assumed their roles as citizens.

These organizations give me the opportunity to extend the impact of my knowledge of public policy, politics, and inequality, reaching audiences that books and journal articles might miss.

This type of strong commitment to cultivating citizens, I would argue, is a hallmark of the nation’s very best colleges and universities.  Moreover, scholars who are based in these institutions can make important contributions to society, especially when they offer evidence-based knowledge and rigorous research that non-profit organizations, policymakers, community leaders, issue advocates, and other key decision makers can draw upon.  I have found civic engagement to be one of the most rewarding aspects of my life as a scholar.  I serve as a board member for the Durham People’s Alliance (PA) Fund, which supports programs like You Can Vote, the Durham Living Wage Project, and other educational and research activities that empower citizens in Durham and throughout North Carolina.  I also serve on the board of Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, which partners with families to provide quality affordable housing and supportive communities. These organizations give me the opportunity to extend the impact of my knowledge of public policy, politics, and inequality, reaching audiences that books and journal articles might miss.  Similarly, as a co-director of the North Carolina Chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network (SSN), I work with scholars across the state to be a resource to North Carolina’s policy makers, providing research briefs, fostering connections with experts on particular subjects, and working to showcase the research of the scholars who make up the state’s remarkable brain trust.

These conversations have influenced my research by helping to shape the questions that I ask, the resources that I consult, and the perspectives that I bring to bear…

In addition to the contributions that scholars can make to society as engaged citizens, I have found that civic engagement enriches my academic work.  For example, as a political historian, I have benefited greatly from my service on the Durham City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments.  Charged with facilitating community dialogue about what should be done with the remnants of the confederate soldier statue that was toppled in August of 2017 and crafting recommendations for what the city and county should do with the statue, I had the opportunity to be a part of rich discussions about the politics of space, historical memory, and historical preservation.  These conversations have influenced my research by helping to shape the questions that I ask, the resources that I consult, and the perspectives that I bring to bear as I consider the influence that post-Reconstruction politics and policy have had on the historical development of higher educational opportunity in the United States.  Not only did I have the opportunity to benefit from rich discussion with a new network of historians, archivists, activists, and a diverse array of community members who bring uniquely insightful perspectives to bear, I also gained the opportunity to meet and work with colleagues like committee co-chairs Dr. Robin Kirk (Duke) and Dr. Charmaine McKissick-Melton (North Carolina Central University), who provide compelling examples of the difference that engaged scholars can make in the community.

As the United States grapples with challenges like declining social cohesion and lackluster political participation—particularly among young citizens—civically engaged scholars can offer powerful role models for students.

Finally, I believe that as a political scientist who is committed to the cultivation of informed and empowered citizens, modeling active civic engagement is part-and-parcel of my work as a professor.  As the United States grapples with challenges like declining social cohesion and lackluster political participation—particularly among young citizens—civically engaged scholars can offer powerful role models for students.  Not only are our students frequently looking for ways to make a positive difference, they possess valuable knowledge and skills that could be an asset to their surrounding communities.  Moreover, as colleges and universities wrestle with questions about the relevance of higher education in a changing society, it is imperative that we recognize and celebrate the important contributions that scholars make to society through civic engagement.

 

Photo: Durham City-County Committee on Confederate Monuments at work during a public meeting in the City Council Chambers (August 2018)