College of Arts and Letters
Chair of the Department of Africana Studies and Professor in the Department of Political Science
For Dianne Pinderhughes, it's not about how far we've come. It's about how far we have left to go.
The chair of Notre Dame’s Department of Africana Studies and professor of political science has dedicated her career to leading the fight for equality and representation for minorities and women in the American political system and in higher education.
And she is steadfastly focused on what still needs to be done.
“I see my role as trying to open up society to make us more accessible and more democratic,” she says. “And for me that means recognizing the continued importance of race and acknowledging the enormous contributions that African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and Native Americans have made to our society.
“It’s a valuable thing to do, and I don’t think we can afford to turn away from it.”
Pinderhughes has been interested in issues of race and representation in politics for as long as she can remember. Growing up in Washington, D.C., she attended a high school six blocks from the Capitol Building and Supreme Court.
“It was always just there — it was part of my life,” she says. “And I wanted to see a fairer representation of the people that I knew, loved and grew up with there.”
As a graduate student at the University of Chicago, Pinderhughes began researching race and ethnicity in urban politics, comparing African-American populations with Italian and Polish immigrants in early 20th-century Chicago.
After receiving her Ph.D., she taught at Dartmouth College and the University of Illinois. Over the years her research evolved and she began examining representation and voting rights policy at a national level.
By 2006, she had been nominated to serve as president of the American Political Science Association — and she joined the College of Arts and Letters as a Notre Dame Presidential Faculty Fellow.
As APSA president, Pinderhughes commissioned a task force to address political science in the 21st century, specifically the lack of diversity in the association along lines of both race and gender.
“Being in a leadership role means trying to articulate the interests of African-American political scientists, how you generate and share knowledge about the history of African-Americans in society,” she says.
Pinderhughes, chair of Africana studies since 2015, is a faculty fellow in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, holds a concurrent faculty appointment in the Department of American Studies, and is a research faculty member in the Gender Studies program.
In her most recent book, Contested Transformation: Race, Gender, and Political Leadership in 21st Century America, Pinderhughes began exploring the intersection of gender and race.
“Gender is another important element to consider when you look at political representation,” Pinderhughes says. “If you just talk about race, you’re eliding any differences across gender lines. If you talk about gender without taking race and ethnicity into account, it doesn’t permit you the complexity of the ways in which populations may vary culturally.”
The title of the book reflects Pinderhughes and her co-authors’ views that the struggle to successfully integrate minorities and women into the political arena is far from over.
“There’s been a significant increase in the number of elected officials of color — male and female — particularly at the local level, but underrepresentation is still an issue,” she says. “I think a successful integration will occur when candidates are viewed and elected without regard to their race, gender or ethnicity.”
The author of several books, more than 30 book chapters, and numerous articles and reports, Pinderhughes is now working on a second edition of a textbook she co-authored on U.S. racial and ethnic politics as well as publishing a volume on the political landscape after the civil rights movement and after Barack Obama’s presidency.
She also just completed her term as first vice president of the International Political Science Association, and separately, she co-chaired the program for IPSA’s 24th World Congress of Political Science in Poznan, Poland, in 2016. And the National Conference of Black Political Scientists recently honored her by creating a new undergraduate mentorship award that bears her name.
In the classroom, Pinderhughes seeks to shine a light on issues ranging from the long history of slavery in the U.S. to the role of women in the civil rights movement.
“For me and for my colleagues in Africana studies, it’s important that our students have a much broader education than they have had in the past,” she says. “These are fundamental pieces of the American legacy.”
She also actively works to ensure that the University is recruiting more women and minority scholars — another area where she’s seen advances — and hopes for further progress.
“It doesn’t matter how long you stay on the case, there is always more to be learned and more work to do,” she says. “And that part is really exciting.”