The Legacy of Leadership: Dianne M. Pinderhughes

Dianne Pinderhughes, the first Black woman to serve as president of the American Political Science Association, is a Distinguished Professor and Full Professor in the Departments of Political Science and Africana Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Pinderhughes’ historic presidency has left an indelible mark on the discipline and continues to shape how political science understands its role in both the academy and public discourse.

During her term from 2007-08, Dr. Pinderhughes’ administration exemplified the enduring importance of identity politics. The centering of identity politics was both a planned and unanticipated focal point of her tenure. While the decision to hold the 2012 APSA annual meeting in New Orleans was made prior to her administration, Dr. Pinderhughes had to respond to the 2004 amendment to the Louisiana state constitution that banned same-sex marriage, one of the most severe bans in the country. In response, LGBTQ academics and allies organized a boycott of the 2012 meeting and vocally opposed the APSA’s decision to move the meeting to another location. Under her leadership, several council meetings were dedicated to reexamine existing siting polices and to create new policies to “assure the civil rights and safety of all APSA members.” Dr. Pinderhughes stressed that “With the guidance of former Executive Director Michael Brintnall, we worked to develop recommendations about the process. APSA spent the year discussing how to move forward, goals to set, and how to address the location of the association. We had a separate council meeting about how to select sites in the future. These were serious and complex criteria in which we were concerned about taking into account the laws of the state.” This issue took the majority of Dr. Pinderhughes’ attention as she and her administration dealt with ways to balance the potential economic benefits to New Orleans for holding the meeting in the city, engaging with local officials about the policy, acknowledging the historic and large gay presence in New Orleans, and accommodating the needs of political scientists and their families. The unintended consequence of the APSA decision to hold the annual meeting in New Orleans was a challenge for which Dianne Pinderhughes was uniquely positioned to handle.

As a scholar of Black politics and former president of the National Conference of Black Political Scientists, Dr. Pinderhughes’ authoritative work on Chicago pluralist politics demonstrates that a nuanced understanding of identity diversification of American politics is at the heart of understanding governmental systems. Along with her subsequent work, Race and Ethnicity in Chicago Politics: A Reexamination of Pluralist Politics, forcefully establishes that a group’s social and political positioning directly maps on to the degrees of progress afforded to this population. Understanding group and identity based coalitions, Dr. Pinderhughes was sensitive to the requests to move the 2012 annual meeting “I was concerned about the damage and taking the conference there to provide financial contributions to the state.” Reifying the need for diversity in governance, Pinderhughes noted “The assumption that you can have a homogenous governing body and that the best way to govern is through having a homogenous population is not going to happen.” In the end, the council voted to keep the conference in New Orleans, however, “hurricane Isaac came to New Orleans and the meeting was canceled, the first in the 100 years of the history of the organization.”

Dr. Pinderhughes originally planned to highlight descriptive representation as key focal point of her administration.  She commissioned the Task Force on Political Science in the 21st Century, which assessed the readiness of political science to embrace and incorporate changes in multicultural diversity as well as economic diversity within nation-states. “I wanted to focus on descriptive representation – people of color, women, in the disciple. I did that in my task force later. But the decision to hold the 2012 APSA annual meeting in New Orleans took the majority of my attention.”  When asked pointedly about the impact of her legacy as the first Black woman president, Dianne Pinderhughes commented that she hoped that this report would “point out to the association in a broad way about the status of representation in graduate programs, faculty hiring/teaching/administrative roles by race and gender. These findings would mobilize, invite, and encourage our colleagues across the country discuss the lack of diversity in our discipline. This is a problem and that they should address it.”  The impetus behind the report was a call made by Theda Skocpol that the American Political Science Association should engage in activities with the broader public and become more accessible to the public. However, Dr. Pinderhughes felt that the APSA first had to look within prior to finding ways to look outward. “I felt that the discipline and association was behind the times in its ability to integrate to attract and add additional graduate students of women and people of color. We need to prioritize this. This was a public sector and leadership issue, particularly descriptive representation of the leadership and population of the country. In order for democracy to work and be meaningful, the profession needed to be more diverse.”

Yet, Dr. Pinderhughes acknowledges that five years since the publication of the report that little has changed within the discipline. “It reflects my own naiveté and optimism that studying an issue and setting an agenda before the discipline would solicit change. After the task force report, there needs to be a 2nd and 3rd phase. There will need to be cultivation over a period of time.” Pointing to current events, Pinderhughes notes, “This election year has reminded us that identity politics can often be volatile. In a diversifying America, identities remain the legitimate issue -immigration, gender, race, class – and we as political scientists have the responsibility to include these issues in our classes and scholarship. They are important issues in our discipline.”

Turning her attention to women of color in the discipline, Dianne Pinderhughes concludes by stating “we have a ways to go. Women are not a sizable population in the discipline in the ways that we ought to be.  There is a significant change that is needed.” In sum, she recommended that the discipline needed to increase the attention to women of color by “providing women support groups that would share information about publishing, promotion strategies, sources for research funding, etc.”  To that end, Dr. Pinderhughes is working to serve as model for promoting diversity in the discipline. At her university, the American Political Science Association, and now 1st Vice President of the International Political Science Association and Co-Chair of its 2016 Istanbul (and now Poznan, Poland) World Congress, she is tirelessly working to diversify the discipline and increase the descriptive representation of underrepresented groups.

I first met Dr. Pinderhughes as senior at Howard University when I served as her undergraduate research assistant while she was a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. This opportunity afforded me directed research experience at a critical period in my nascent academic career. It was her continued mentorship that helped me to survive difficult periods in both graduate school and on the tenure track. My firsthand experiences with Dianne Pinderhughes have been transformative and enriching. I can personally attest to the power of having women of color role models in political science as making a striking difference in my career. I wanted to illuminate my arrival at this conclusion by editing this column on Issue Discussions Relevant to Women of Color and Intersectionality. By foregrounding the impact of the legacies of Dr. Dianne Pinderhughes this column seeks highlight the influence of women of color and intersectional issues on political science.

2 thoughts on “The Legacy of Leadership: Dianne M. Pinderhughes

  • May 7, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Dianne Pinderhughes has been a friend and role model for me for many years, I remember her speech at APSA when we were anticipating the election of Barack Obama, the phrase “in my lifetime” was a focal point, and her inspiring words have stuck with me.

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