Press Release

UNM Political Science Professor to Study Role of Gender and Race in Elected Officials with Ford Foundation Grant

University of New Mexico Political Science Professor Christine Sierra has launched a three-year study on the role of gender and race as it relates to elected officials in the United States.

The first of its kind, Sierra said, the study was funded by a $680,000 Ford Foundation grant this past summer. The project is a comprehensive examination of backgrounds, experiences and perspectives of America's increasingly diverse elected leadership at local, state and national levels. The study will focus on African American, Hispanic and Asian American elected officials.

The study is timely given America's demographic change and its impact on the country's leadership ranks, she said. The 2000 United States Census points to an urgent need to understand the role of gender and race/ethnicity in today's elected leaders and how diversified leadership is becoming incorporated into the governing structures of a nation projected to be “majority-minority” in the next fifty years, Sierra said.

Sierra will conduct the study “Gender and Multicultural Leadership: The Future of Governance,” with co-principal investigators Carol Hardy-Fanta, Center for Women in Politics & Public Policy, University of Massachusetts-Boston; Pei-te Lien, Department of Political Science and Ethnic Studies, University of Utah; and Dianne M. Pinderhughes, Department of Political Science and Afro-American Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Related to this award and project, I was invited by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at the Eagleton Institute at Rutgers University to be a visiting professor this year.  I spent fall semester at Rutgers and will return for the month of June,” Sierra said.

“The role women of color play in the exercise of representative government and democratic politics is a central concern in this study. As elected officials, women of color are most prominent on local school boards and in municipal government. At the same time, their slow but unprecedented rise to state-level and federal office, including the U.S. Congress, signals their increasing prominence among America's political leaders. Women of color now comprise a significant percentage of the total number of elected officials from their respective racial/ethnic groups – at rates that surpass those for women in general,” Sierra said.

Other issues addressed through this project will include:

  • Need for Information: This study will provide important baseline data of a new emergent political leadership for America in the 21st century. Subjects for investigation include dimensions of identity politics (race, ethnicity, and gender), motives for seeking political office, trajectories into elective office, political attitudes and representational roles in office and public policy perspectives.
  • Contributions to Scholarship: The role women of color play in the exercise of representative government and democratic politics is a central concern of this study. Accordingly, this project asks how gender, race, and ethnicity, independently or in combination, impact women (and men) of color as they seek and hold elective office.
  • Inform Public Policy Debates: This study seeks to contribute to the public debate on major issues of national policy. The study's inclusion of questions relevant to timely and contested issues such as affirmative action, immigration and immigrant rights, voting rights and redistricting will provide a sound, analytical basis from which to assess how these questions figure into the politics of minority elected officials.
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