Last week, I participated in the very first Public Voices Fellowship at Northwestern University. The fellowship is aimed at giving twenty scholars from across all schools at NU the opportunity to enhance and widen their voices in the public square. For me, I saw this as an important first step in bringing the absent voices of women and underrepresented minorities to the forefront of scholarly discussion beyond academe. Much too often, the lack of institutional access prevents the diverse perspectives of these scholars from appearing in major media outlets. And, when this happens, I believe the general public is deprived of important views and an opportunity is lost in impacting and changing the direction of critical policy debates.
On the morning of the two-day seminar, I recall a news story from Salon entitled “Huge Racial Disparities in Political Journalism: 93 percent of front-page election articles have been written by white journalists.” I actually found this astounding yet it was quite telling of why the Op-Ed Project was launched in the first place. As a political scientist who studies race and ethnic politics from comparative frameworks, this fellowship has given me the chance to widen the discussion of my expertise in an ever-changing area of scholarship.
As I sat in the room full of brilliant colleagues with academic pedigree that is second to none, I found it a bit surprising at how many of us were unsure of how to grapple with “being the expert” and bringing legitimacy to our knowledge in the public square. A telling moment for me was when a colleague raised the question of “what if we are not the best expert? Do we still share the forum with others who might know more or just as much as us?” The simple answer: yes, yes and hell yes. If anything, the two tremendous trainers that day, Michelle Weldon and E.J. Graff, taught us that each of us bring a unique quality to the public dialogue of intellectual discussion. And, that if we do not inject ourselves into the mainstream media, someone else will and more than likely, that person will look nothing like us. The Op-Ed project exists to stem the tide of this imbalance of views.
It was wonderful to interact with colleagues with different backgrounds, scholarly expertise and knowing we all have the same purpose: to better influence the public debate on important issues. I want to thank the Public Voices fellowship for pushing to improve the public discourse by offering women and underrepresented scholars like myself the chance to be relevant beyond the boundaries of the academic community. The idea is to think BIG! And, I plan to take full advantage of this opportunity.
– Dr. Jaime Dominguez is lecturer of political science at Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences.