This fall Vanessa Tyson joined Scripps College as an assistant professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Her forthcoming book, Twists of Fate: Multiracial Coalitions and Minority Representation in the U.S. House, explores structural inequality in the U.S. and how members of Congress have formed multiracial coalitions as a strategy to provide for their diverse constituencies.
Scripps College: As your first book goes to press, what, in a nutshell, will it tell us about your research findings?
Vanessa Tyson: Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, from and representing communities of color, have long witnessed the collective marginalization of their constituencies—effectively the byproduct of the outsized influence of money in politics and a long history of cumulative inequality that accompanies the systematic exclusion of racial minorities from decision-making processes in political, economic, and social realms. As such, these members have built a new, robust coalition to advocate together for their diverse constituencies, seeking a larger share of the pie rather than competing over the crumbs, so to speak. In essence, what’s happening with multiracial coalitions at the federal level of government dramatically differs from the political maneuvering that occurred as recently as 15 years ago, and differs from local-level politics.
SC: What are your thoughts about the 2016 presidential election as the process unfolds and the political rhetoric continues to build?
VT: I’m very concerned by the rhetoric in the Republican debates thus far, particularly in regards to women’s health and immigration policy. The messages sent by the candidates seem to target specific populations in an unhealthy manner. Moreover, the lack of empathy and understanding of complicated life choices doesn’t reflect the kind of wisdom that I think is necessary for elected leaders. To the contrary, it seems highly “un-Presidential.” I think the Congressional elections may be more interesting, given the announced resignation of Speaker John Boehner and the potential for a government shutdown led by Republicans who wish to defund Planned Parenthood.
SC: What advice would you give students who want to participate in politics?
VT: Follow your passions. Try to help as many people as you can while you can, and never forget that elected officials are public servants, first and foremost. Also, you’ll need to develop a thick skin. If you want a friend, get a dog.
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