In this photo is Laurie Nowak (DuPage County Board member), Anita Alvarez (State's Attorney), Rebecca Hannagan (Professor, Northern Illinois University), Judy Brodhead (Naperville City Councilwoman), and Grace Deason (Professor, University of Wisconsin La Crosse).
In this photo is Alisa Von Hagel (University of Wisconsin Superior) in the foreground with Nichole Bauer (Indiana University). In the background is Meg Rincker (Purdue University Calumet) and Brian Calfano (Missouri State University).
The NIU Naperville campus hosted a unique research workshop funded by the International Society for Political Psychology on August 27-28 that focused on Political Psychology and Gender. The organizers, Professor Rebecca Hannagan of Northern Illinois University and Professor Grace Deason of the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, brought together scholars from the fields of political science and psychology who study the various ways that gender impacts political behaviors. In addition to presenting new research, the workshop aimed to build a network of scholars and to provide career mentoring to graduate students and junior faculty.
Research presentations engaged topics of intersecting identities – such as race, religion, partisanship, sexual orientation, and gender – and how such identities impact the decision to run for office, Congressional voting behaviors, perceptions of candidates and leaders, and the group dynamics of decision making bodies. The graduate students represented at the workshop came from various schools and programs – such as Yale, Michigan, Duke, the University of Minnesota, and Northern Illinois University. Assistant professors and more senior scholars represented institutions such as the University of Calgary, Brandeis University, the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, Union College and Princeton.
In addition to presenting their research, the scholars received in-depth feedback on their work in peer review sessions. These sessions and the discussions that followed the research presentations were specifically designed to ensure successful publication of scholars’ work. Peer review sessions matched each presenter with both a junior and senior scholar so that all could benefit from the discussion, and so more junior scholars could learn how to provide useful feedback. Logan Casey, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan relayed the following in an email to the organizers after the workshop: “The workshop was the most positive conference experience I've had as a graduate student. I presented dissertation-related research to a community of scholars whose work is directly relevant to my own; this allowed me a rare opportunity to engage with my peers both in person and at a formative stage of my research. The feedback I received has already proven critical for improving my project, both in terms of situating my work in relevant literatures and in developing a stronger methodological design. My dissertation committee has expressed excitement and support for the feedback and new ideas/directions that have come from the workshop.”
Informal networking took place throughout the workshop as conversations over breaks flowed easily from the research panels and discussions. In mentoring sessions over lunch, the organizers paired graduate students and junior faculty with more senior scholars to discuss topics such as getting an academic job, getting tenure, applying for grants, or building collaborative networks.
Alisa Von Hagel, NIU alumnae and Assistant Professor at the University of Wisconsin Superior, noted the following: “The workshop was an excellent opportunity to meet with an incredible group of scholars, all of whom are engaged in timely, innovative, and compelling work. The most valuable experience was the time set aside for peer mentoring and the willingness of participants to engage in thoughtful and useful dialogue, providing great insight on how to advance within the profession.”
To connect the academic research with women’s experiences in politics, the organizers invited local political leaders to be a part of the conference in varying capacities. Joining the group for dinner on the first evening of the workshop was Alderman Deborah Graham, who represents Chicago’s 29th Ward. She shared her personal story of entering public service that has included serving in the Illinois General Assembly for the 78th District.
The workshop concluded with a plenary panel featuring State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, Naperville City Councilwoman Judy Brodhead, and DuPage County Board member Laurie Nowak. These leaders shared their stories of entering public service – each quite distinct from the others. State’s Attorney Alvarez simply knew from her years working her way up as a prosecutor that she had the skills to do the job. Councilwoman Brodhead had come from a politically engaged family, but her entry into public service was in response to something that happened in her community that compelled her to take action. Nowak, who just won her first elective office in November, stated "one of the many reasons I sought office was the lack of women represented on the County Board. Of 18 Members there was only one woman elected when I ran."
The workshop participants had an opportunity to ask questions pertinent to their research, such as if the women on the panel had personally faced some of the challenges identified in the research literature. In response to one of the questions, DuPage County Board member Laurie Nowak noted, "There certainly are both practical challenges and stereotypical perceptions that can hold women back in ways that do not usually affect men. In general though, I think people want women to run, win, and bring a different approach to government. So then it becomes a matter of identifying solutions that empower women and enable a more balanced representation in government."
The conversation was a truly unique opportunity for the scholars to interact with those whom they study. Hannagan and Deason plan to disseminate the research presented at the workshop in the form of a peer-reviewed journal issue. They also aim to facilitate the network and mentoring that began at the workshop by hosting a Facebook Group, inviting participants to be part of panels at larger conferences, hosting Google chat sessions to discuss issues in the profession, and perhaps hosting another workshop again in the future. As Hannagan noted, “NIU political science faculty are particularly attuned to the intersection of scholarship, teaching, and the political environment” and this workshop was yet another example of success in bringing them together.