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May 2, 2008

Center on African-American Politics and Society Launches

The Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy at Columbia University announced the launch of the Center on African-American Politics and Society, which will conduct research on the political, social and economic conditions affecting blacks in the United States.

Professor Fredrick Harris
Photo by Eileen Barroso

The center’s work, to be led by Fredrick Harris, professor of political science at Columbia, will encourage the development of interdisciplinary research using methods from political science, psychology, sociology, law, economics and urban studies. Professor Harris proposed the center—known as CAAPS—in fall 2007 to bridge the divide between academic research and the concerns of citizens and civic groups working to support African-American communities.

“Here at Columbia, there is a lot of talent and innovative work on race, politics and social policy,” said Harris. “I want the center to bring these people together and serve as a clearinghouse of research on issues such as black political participation, housing, employment and the challenges facing black youth. But it is also important to me that the center’s work link social science research with advocacy so that it has an impact on the real world. We can do that by providing information on issues and on innovative political strategies to scholars, policymakers, elected officials, and activists working in local communities in New York City and across the country.”

In its first months, the center will focus its attention on the role of race in the 2008 presidential election. CAAPS plans to issue quarterly election reports on black public opinion and voting behavior. In addition, Harris is working with faculty researchers to organize a conference on the role of race in the U.S. criminal justice system in relation to drug policy. The election-focused work of CAAPS will culminate in a roundtable discussion coordinated in partnership with community groups based in Harlem, tackling issues important to black voters in the upcoming election.

“Drawing on Columbia's legacy of innovative social science research, the center is well-positioned to advance research on the black experience,” said Dorian Warren, assistant professor of political science at the University. “While at the same time, the center creates a space for innovative collaborations between scholars, community- and policy-based practitioners.”

Through public forums, the center will bring social scientists into the public arena and connect them with activists and practitioners and help set the agenda on issues important to the black community.

“We have one finger in the academic world, one finger in the public world,” said Harris. “We’re somewhere in the middle, and we’re working on building mutually beneficial partnerships on either side.”

Story by Tanya Domi and Anasastia Gornick