CLASS doctoral candidate’s research on minority women and politics has relevance to current events

Ms. Wright

During the most recent presidential election, and in the weeks following our new president’s term, the way individuals of different races and genders are represented in the United States’ political system has become an issue discussed across news outlets and in the community.

College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences doctoral candidate Kenicia Wright has been paying close attention to these discussions because the topic is directly in line with her academic research interests.

As a woman of color, Wright has always been particularly interested in exploring the unique experiences of minority females when it comes to political representation. Being both female and African American, Wright notes that the effects of overlapping social identities, such as race and gender, should not be overlooked.

“America is one of the most racially diverse democracies,” says Wright. “Despite this and the fact that representation is a core element of democracy, minority women are still substantially under-represented. I address this shortcoming in my dissertation, ‘The Ties That Do Not Bind: Social Capital, Minority Female Representation, and Social Inequality in the U.S.’”

When examining how her research relates to the most recent presidential election, Wright says that she can identify three major connections.

“First, there is a significant under-representation of minority women in the cabinet of the current administration. In my dissertation, I argue that the under-representation of these women is troubling by exploring the promising effects of high levels of minority female representation,” she says.

“Second, the 2016 presidential election has led to an increase in the political engagement and mobilization of women of color,” adds Wright. “In my dissertation, I argue that this type of mobilization is conducive to the unique social and political contexts that benefit minority female representation.”

Wright notes that recently women of color (and women in general) have mobilized in unexpected ways to ensure this new administration hears their voice. For example, there have been women’s marches across major cities in America and throughout the world since the presidential election.

Finally, regarding her third connection, Wright says, “The repeal of the Affordable Care Act was one of the major campaign promises made by President Donald Trump. In my dissertation I focus on social inequality – specifically, health care inequality – faced by minority women.”

Wright is working cohesively with her advisor, Dr. Ling Zhu, assistant professor of political science, as she works her way closer to graduating with her Ph.D., likely in May 2018.

“Kencia is intelligent, hardworking, and an outstanding student,” says Dr. Zhu. “She always dreams big and strives for excellence. I have no doubt that she will become a great scholar and mentor in the future. Only sky is her limit!”

Dr. Zhu is one of the reasons that Wright decided to pursue her graduate degree at the University of Houston.

“I found the scholars in the department of political science – particularly Dr. Zhu - have research interests that closely relate to my own. Being able to work with individuals who were experts in areas I was interested in was one of the main reasons I decided to attend this university,” says Wright.

Another reason she decided to attend UH was because she is a native Houstonian. She graduated from North Shore Senior High School in 2008 and then went to Texas A&M University where she majored in political science. An added bonus was that Wright and Dr. Zhu both attended Texas A&M University and had the same advisor. The lure of having the support of her family while advancing through graduate school under the guidance of Dr. Zhu was too beneficial for her to resist.

Once she completes her doctorate, Wright hopes to find a tenured-track position at a Research-1 (R1) University.

“This will allow me to continue producing scholarly research, to teach courses related to my areas of expertise, and to mentor undergraduate and graduate level students by sharing the knowledge I have gained from my life experiences. I look forward to being a professor at this type of university as it will allow me to continue balancing service and research in exciting, new ways,” she says.

-Monica Byars