Date September 30, 2022
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Taubman Center kickstarts student-led research, emphasizes focus on voting access

Wendy Schiller, director of the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy, is supporting student-led research on voting access and creating a “one-stop shop” for people to learn more about politics in the United States.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — New leadership is yielding new research, conversations and initiatives at Brown University’s Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy.

Wendy J. Schiller, a professor of political science at Brown and a respected national political expert, took the reins of the Taubman Center in late 2021. In just a year, Schiller has built on the center’s reputation as a leading source of political and policy information by kickstarting student-centered research projects, hosting talks and conversations focused on issues of racial and gender inequality, and transforming the center’s digital presence into a one-stop shop for information on pressing policy issues of the day.

Since 1984, the Taubman Center — housed within Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs — has been at the forefront of discussions and debates about pressing political issues. In a Q&A with the Watson Institute, Schiller shared her vision for the Taubman Center, discussed a new student-led research project on voting access, and revealed details about her upcoming book on the real-world effects of different domestic violence policies across U.S. states.

Q: You are in your second year as director of the Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy. What are your overarching goals for this year?

I want the Taubman Center to be the one-stop shop resource on American politics for Brown students and the greater Rhode Island community. We hired a terrific new program manager, Othniel Harris, who previously worked for the general counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce and in North Carolina on voting rights issues. He has an excellent mix of skills and an inherent sense of politics.  

We’ve updated our website to make it a prominent focal point and resource for students interested in American politics. There’s a whole new section on voting and the impact of new voting restrictions on a state-by-state basis. We’re working on our own research project that will report on these state-level changes to voting rights. We want the Taubman Center to be a place where students can not only engage in dialogue and hear provocative speakers but can also rely on the website as a comprehensive resource on key topics of the day, such as the rule of law, governmental politics and policy, women’s rights, and security and voting rights.  

We have to ask ourselves at Taubman and Watson: What are we doing to prepare and equip our students for living in a more contentious, louder and more unpredictable society than earlier generations did?

Wendy Schiller Director, Taubman Center for American Politics and Policy
Wendy Schiller speaking at a panel discussion

Q: The Taubman Center is offering student research grants. Why were they created and what types of research projects are available to students?

We want this generation of students to focus on what they can do to change their own communities and how they can affect existing policies where they live. Our current research opportunities focus on these themes: legislative politics and policy advocacy; obstacles to racial, ethnic and gender empowerment; and domestic violence and human security. We want to encourage research from students on these themes by providing them with financial support to conduct that research, especially as it relates to underrepresentation. Additionally, we have created three fellowship grants for Ph.D. students in any field who study underrepresentation and the intersection with economic, social and political inequality.   

We also provide scholarship funding for internships that offer students valuable learning experiences to evaluate what works and what doesn’t, and we are fortunate that the Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Internship and the Happy and John Hazen White Sr. Internships each fund undergraduate students who secure internships that focus on U.S. domestic politics and policy.  

We have created a new research program on voting rights, with donor support. Legislation in states that limit voting access, such as Arizona, Georgia and Texas, spurred us to research these laws and see what the impact is by comparing access to voting in the 2016, 2018, 2020 and the upcoming midterm elections. We are creating a research team of four undergraduate student researchers this year to evaluate the impact of these laws. In addition, we are excited that our project on voting rights has also been selected by the Watson Master of Public Affairs program to fund an MPA student as a Watson MPA Fellow to work with our team.  

Q: This generation of students will face profound challenges. How can the Taubman best prepare students for the future?  

We have to ask ourselves at Taubman and Watson: What are we doing to prepare and equip our students for living in a more contentious, louder and more unpredictable society than earlier generations did? It is our generation’s responsibility to understand what is better about today, what can be better about the future, what was neglected for so long, and what can be fixed. I hope that the Taubman Center can create a consistently participatory place for students to engage in this kind of learning and give them that foundation when they leave Brown.  

Q: Tell us about your research and your upcoming book, which is your fifth.

My research informs how I wanted to revamp Taubman’s focus. My book, “Inequality Across State Lines: How Policymakers Have Failed Domestic Violence Victims in the United States,” co-authored with 2015 Brown Ph.D. graduate Kaitlin Sidorsky, will be published by Cambridge University Press in December 2022. We examine the unevenness and inconsistency of laws pertaining to domestic violence and gun safety across all 50 states. There’s been a long process of looking at federalism and dual sovereignty, which undermines the effectiveness of federal policies. This is especially important for women, and not only with respect to abortion access and wage differences. Domestic violence, as an example, directly affects one in four women. The state you live in and how that state’s laws protect you or fail to protect you matter a great deal. 

This all coincides with how I want to shift the Taubman Center’s approach: I want students to think about equality as their daily lived experience, and their equality is affected by the laws of their state.