‘Historic Firsts’ Lecture Examines How Symbolic Empowerment Changes U.S. Politics

Trinity Hosted Talk by Author and University of Connecticut Associate Professor Evelyn Simien

Hartford, Connecticut, February 19, 2016 – Trinity College recently hosted a lecture by Evelyn Simien, an associate professor in the University of Connecticut’s Department of Political Science and Institute for Africana Studies, as part of Trinity’s celebration of Black History Month.

Students and faculty from Trinity’s political science and history departments filled the Rittenberg Lounge in Mather Hall to hear Simien’s lecture on February 15. The author of Historic Firsts: How Symbolic Empowerment Changes U.S. Politics (Oxford University Press, 2015) discussed the role of barrier-breaking candidacies that succeeded in drawing previously politically inactive people into the electoral process. Simien’s research is interdisciplinary, crossing the social sciences and humanities. She also is the author of Black Feminist Voices in Politics (SUNY Press, 2006) as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters.

In her talk, Simien highlighted the importance of historic firsts changing the nature of political representation, especially when the identity of the candidate serves as an influence and affirms an ego-enhancing relationship with voters. She highlighted the role of prior presidential campaigns, starting with Shirley Chisholm in 1972 and Jesse Jackson in 1984, which she said have paved the way and created the opportunities for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in recent elections. “Chisholm and Jackson’s candidacies, while dubbed unsuccessful, were relevant, important, and very necessary,” said Simien. “Such campaign ‘firsts,’ on account of their race and gender, affect not just who votes and why, but also mobilize mass political behavior.”

Stefanie Chambers, Charles A. Dana Research Associate Professor of Political Science at Trinity College, said of Simien, “Her research is groundbreaking because she looks beyond the more traditional descriptions of presidential campaign politics or how people legislate once in office. Instead, she examines how these 'historic firsts' influenced the political engagement of marginalized groups.”

Written by Josh LeBlanc ’16