Message from the Chair ~ Fall 2020

Message from the Chair ~ Fall 2020

Dear Political Science and IRPS (International Relations-Political Science) Majors,


On behalf of the Political Science Department, welcome back! 


Wherever you are, on campus or across the globe, my colleagues and I in the Department are truly excited to be back in the classroom and on Zoom with you doing what we love best--teaching and learning with Wellesley’s passionate students.


We know that these are trying times for our students, as many are dealing with the effects of the global pandemic on the health and financial security of their families and communities. You may be taking courses remotely, in situations or at times that are far from ideal.  We understand that this year may bring additional challenges as you navigate classes and the myriad demands of life as a college student. We are committed to supporting you in whatever ways we can. Our instructors have tried to build flexibility into our classes, and we hope that you’ll reach out to us if we can accommodate you in other ways.


The pandemic has also laid bare the incredible racial disparities in the United States.  Horrific public acts by the police, and by others, remind us that racism is a fundamental aspect of American life.  We know this systematic racism profoundly affects our students.  Many have been organizing and protesting, online, in the streets--and on campus.


We want to acknowledge this activism and take this moment to respond to the demands put forward by Wellesley 4 Black Students and the Native American Student Association. We understand that these student organizers, like many of our majors, are challenging members of the Wellesley community to consider how we contribute to systemic racism and inequity on campus. I would like to share with you some steps that we have taken, and steps we are planning to take, to meet this challenge:


  • Our department has prioritized racial diversity and equity in our hires over the last several years. We are excited to have brought to Wellesley an exceptional cohort of young scholars, Professors Jennifer Chudy, Maneesh Arora, and Danilo Contreras, whose research and teaching focuses on racial and ethnic politics in the United States and Latin America. Together they bring expertise on racial attitudes, minority political behavior, and issues such as policing and immigration.
  • We are also excited to be conducting a search for a new faculty member in international relations this year.  We have been authorized to hire someone who teaches in global political economy and/or global governance, and we have included race and inequality in our search as additional areas of key curricular concern. We are asking our candidates to detail in their applications how diversity, inclusion, and equity connect to their teaching, scholarship, and service. And we are again committed to prioritizing faculty diversity in our search.
  • We are introducing a Political Scientists of Color (PSOC) student group for majors and prospective majors directed by Professor Chudy. The goal of this group is to build community and support.  We hope it can be a space to discuss issues of concern, celebrate each other’s successes, find friends in the department, and more.
  • We are also excited to build on the scholarly expertise of our faculty to develop public programming that focuses on race and ethnicity in politics. Professor Arora has put together a 2020 Election Speaker Series that includes an impressive list of experts on race, ethnicity, and gender in electoral politics.  If you haven’t been blizzarded yet with invitations to attend these events, stay tuned!  After the election, we plan to create a speaker series on racial and ethnic politics, both in the United States and internationally, and we would welcome your suggestions for this series.


We know that we have a considerable way to go to address feelings of exclusion and isolation among students of color in our major. We are committed to exploring, in discussion with our majors, how our department can become more inclusive and equitable.  My colleagues and I will be scrutinizing our policies, practices and teaching methods with this goal in mind.  As part of this study we will be asking our majors about their experiences in the Department and what they think we can be doing better. 


We hope these steps will have a meaningful impact on the experiences of our majors and all Wellesley students with an interest in politics and political science.  We know there is much work to be done to make the department a more welcoming place for all. We are committed to that work.


Tom Burke

Ralph Emerson and Alice Freeman Palmer Professor and

Chair, Political Science Department, Wellesley College