University of California, Los Angeles: UCLA, Howard University launch summer program for students of race, ethnicity and politics

The first-ever Mark Q. Sawyer Summer Institute will bring four undergraduate fellows from Howard University in Washington, D.C., to the UCLA campus this June for an immersive six-week academic research program that explores the crucial role of race, ethnicity and politics in society.


The multiyear program, a collaboration between faculty from UCLA’s political science department and Howard, is funded by the UC–HBCU Initiative, which seeks to boost the number of undergraduate scholars from historically Black colleges and universities who enroll in and complete advanced degree programs at University of California campuses.


Named for the late UCLA professor Mark Sawyer, a pioneer in the field of race, ethnicity and politics, the newly launched summer institute will be led by UCLA’s Lorrie Frasure, an associate professor of political science and African American studies, and Natalie Masuoka, an associate professor of political science and chair of the Asian American studies department. Their Howard counterpart is Niambi Carter, an associate professor of political science and director of graduate studies.


“Our objective is to create an inclusive and supportive environment for students to develop their skills in research methods and design and to encourage participants to see themselves as confident and qualified applicants to an advanced degree program in political science,” said Frasure, who also serves as vice chair of graduate studies in political science.


Fellows in the program will focus on race and ethnicity as a central category that informs political processes in the United States and will help produce research that spotlights the underrecognized political role played by African American and other communities of color. The scholars will familiarize themselves with empirical research methods through innovative workshops and participate in seminars that explore theories of U.S. racial and ethnic politics, specifically Black politics.


The four undergraduate scholars selected for this summer, all of them political science majors entering their senior year at Howard, are Justina Blanco, Havillyn Felder, Donroy Ferdinand and Yasmine Grier.


Carter said the partnership between UCLA’s political science department and Howard’s program in Black politics provides an ideal opportunity for some of Howard’s best and brightest students to work on cutting-edge research while carving a pathway to graduate studies and professorships.


“I am excited that our students get to experience a different campus and different approaches to political science. I am also expecting UCLA to learn a lot from our students, whose worldview has been shaped in really important ways by Howard University and our motto, ‘Truth and Service,’” Carter said. “This partnership helps both our campuses achieve our shared goals of producing bright scholars who will bring all of who they are to the classroom and in their approaches to studying some of the biggest issues in political science. We look forward to creating lasting, deep connections and looking for other places to connect our campuses.”


As part of the mission of the UC–HBCU Initiative, the University of California will waive application fees for alumni of the initiative’s programs — including the Sawyer Summer Institute — who apply to any of the more than 700 academic graduate programs at the UC’s 10 campuses. Those admitted to advanced degree programs will be eligible to receive competitive funding packages.


The field of race and ethnicity politics at UCLA today serves as a model for universities across the nation, thanks in no small part to the efforts of Mark Sawyer, Frasure said.

Sawyer, a professor of political science and African American studies who died in 2017, co-founded the race, ethnicity and politics program in UCLA’s political science department in 2006 and was instrumental in establishing the campus’s department of African American studies in 2015.


“Professor Sawyer is remembered as an outstanding scholar and a committed mentor and teacher,” Frasure said, “but he is most remembered as a visionary builder of lasting institutions.”


UCLA’s political science graduate program is currently one of only a handful in the U.S. to have established racial and ethnic politics as an institutionalized field of study, and its political science department boasts one of the largest concentrations of faculty engaged in the specialty.

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