Joining forces: The Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture nurtures cross-disciplinary research and programming

Jeanie Chung
Photo Credit: 
Jason Smith

Michael Dawson, LAB’68, believes a “postracial society” is not only possible but desirable. “I don’t think we would want a postethnic society,” says the director of the University’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, noting the importance of acknowledging and celebrating different ethnicities. “But to the degree that systematically [race] relates to power, resources: yes, let’s get rid of it.”

Examining race in politics, economics, sociology, health care, and other areas led Dawson, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Political Science and the College, to found the center in 1994, a place where he and colleagues whose work addressed race in different contexts could combine forces and share resources. The center’s function is threefold: It offers an undergraduate major and minor in comparative race and ethnic studies, as well as fellowship support for doctoral students whose work engages issues of race and ethnicity. It produces public programming. And, in an area that has grown along with the number of affiliated faculty, it produces research addressing race, ranging from Mexican art to health care disparities worldwide.

Although the work of Dawson and early affiliated faculty tended to fall under African American studies, the group decided from the beginning to tackle race broadly rather than to have separate areas for African, Asian, Latino, and other ethnic studies. Part of the decision was practical: the center simply didn’t have enough faculty to do justice to each area separately. But part was also an intellectual choice.

“Graduate students of mine have challenged me, that I’m too much thinking in terms of the black/white paradigm,” Dawson says. “It’s helped our understanding of race and ethnicity both within the US and internationally to be able to have a comparative perspective.”

In its first 10 years the center grew to 30 faculty affiliates, and today it has 64 affiliated faculty, drawn from every division and nearly every professional school on campus.

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