From Social Justice Activism to Shaping Policy: An Interactive, Virtual Workshop
October 15, 2020
To help college students learn how they can take their passion for social justice and turn it into lasting, impactful policy, Pardee RAND leaders offered a virtual workshop on October 8 that attracted more than 80 attendees.
The event arose from a simple question posed by Pardee RAND professor Brandon Crosby during an open discussion with Morehouse College president David Thomas in June. Specifically, Crosby asked, how could RAND and Pardee RAND develop a closer and more supportive relationship with historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) like his own alma mater, Morehouse?
Stefanie Howard, Pardee RAND’s assistant dean for admissions and strategic initiatives, brainstormed ideas with Crosby and an internal champion at Morehouse, Dr. Sinead Younge. They decided the event should highlight the work that goes on at research institutes to change policy, and offer next steps to those inspired by social justice activism, who might not otherwise be aware of policy analysis as a career option.
Howard, Crosby, and Younge engaged with the RAND community to offer eight interactive breakout sessions:
- Racism and the Criminal Justice System, led by Dionne Barnes-Proby
- Police Reform, led by Meagan Cahill
- Diversity and Retention in the Military, led by Crosby
- Drug Policies and Mass Incarceration, led by Martin Iguchi
- Food Deserts and Lack of Resources in Impoverished Communities, led by Pardee RAND student Alexandra Mendoza-Graf (cohort ’16)
- Data Science and Machine Learning in Policy, led by Osonde Osoba
- Income Inequality and Intergenerational Wealth Transfer, led by Jonathan William Welburn
- Racial Health Disparities, led by Malcolm Williams
Morehouse attendees included those in honor programs such as the Oprah Winfrey Scholars. Pardee RAND also reached out to PPIA fellows and encouraged our Faculty Leaders alumni to invite their students.
Younge introduced the event and presenters, and began with an online poll to gauge the background and interests of the participants. Poll questions included whether participants had also been involved in any activism this summer, what prompted their activism, and what the best ways are to inform policy. More than 60 percent of attendees had participated in a protest, march, or other activity; 29 percent said their main reason for doing so was the Black Lives Matter movement; and 48 percent said the best way to inform or influence policy was through activism (26 percent said providing research, and 20 percent said through running for office).
Crosby then talked about the reason he worked with Pardee RAND to develop the event.
“I didn’t want to have a talk where we discuss ‘Oh, RAND is so great because of X, Y, and Z’; no, we really wanted to have the opportunity to educate students about what they can do right now, with their degree, no matter what it is, that could lead to a career where you impact policy in ways that you may not even know,” he said.
“We really wanted to have the opportunity to educate students about what they can do right now, with their degree, no matter what it is, that could lead to a career where you impact policy in ways that you may not even know.”
He added, “RAND’s main focus is on policy. Tying research to policy. Teaching people about policy at the graduate school. All the work that we do is impacting policy. And that resonated with me even when I was applying to RAND, because of what I’d learned at Morehouse.”
Crosby then talked about his own background and how he became an academic and researcher. He first joined RAND through the Summer Associate program for graduate students.
“I was introduced to this strange world of policy research and being able to study interesting things and come up with some really great findings that could go to very influential people and make some serious change, which was so exciting,” he said.
Crosby described to attendees what RAND does, how it conducts research, and the various research divisions and centers at RAND, including the new RAND Center for Advancing Racial Equity Policy.
Howard, the assistant dean for admissions and strategic initiatives, spoke for a few minutes about Pardee RAND and its relationship with RAND, the history and role of graduate education in public policy, and why the school helped to organize the event.
Iguchi, program coordinator and professor at Pardee RAND, talked about his friendship with Morehouse president Thomas, with whom he worked as a fellow dean at Georgetown.
“I invited Dr. Thomas to speak, after the George Floyd killing, thinking, he’s in charge of [educating] so many of our future black male leaders in America, and I thought we should hear his perspective and open a dialogue across RAND in the area” of social justice.
“We’re hoping we can take you from a step of activism to really thinking through how do I turn that activism, that passionate commitment, into policy and action. That’s really what the breakout sessions are intended to do.”
—Prof. Martin Iguchi
About the event, he said, “We’re hoping we can take you from a step of activism to really thinking through how do I turn that activism, that passionate commitment, into policy and action. That’s really what the breakout sessions are intended to do, to give you a space in which you can discuss in a smaller gathering with an expert on the topic, ranging from any place from wealth inequality to police reform to health disparities to mass incarceration related to drug policies.”
He said he hoped the event would help attendees “move from the streets to organizing effective action and supporting the collection of data that will persuade people.”
Each of the presenters briefly described their background and interests, after which the attendees moved to one of the eight breakout sessions.
After 30 minutes, all the participants returned to the main Zoom presentation, and Younge recapped the event. “Time flew by, and there was not enough time to really get into it in the way we wanted to, which is actually good,” she said, “because we wanted to give you a taste of how exciting this work can be and all of the different options you have available.”
“This is not the end,” she added. “We will have a continued relationship with RAND. Research on policy is one vehicle to address social change on a grand scale. So I hope you left inspired. We will be in touch; this is really just the beginning.”
Indeed, when Howard sent the more than 130 registrants a temporary link to the recording, she included numerous opportunities for them to get involved in policy research, including Pardee RAND’s own information sessions, Twitter and email links for the presenters, and links for the Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) program, which works to promote the inclusion and full participation of underrepresented groups in public service.
“We are hoping for this to be the beginning of a longer relationship for Pardee RAND with Morehouse and the larger Atlanta University Consortium,” Howard said.