Cathy Cohen David and Mary Winton Green Professor in Political Science and the College; Deputy Provost for Graduate Education
Cathy Cohen's general field of specialization is American politics, although her research interests include African-American politics, women and politics, lesbian and gay politics, and social movements.
She is the author of the book The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics (University Of Chicago Press, 1999), and the co-editor with Kathleen Jones and Joan Tronto of Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader (New York University Press, 1997). Her work has been published in numerous journals and edited volumes, including the American Political Science Review, GLQ, NOMOS and Social Text.
Cohen also is editor with Frederick Harris of a new book series from Oxford Press entitled Transgressing Boundaries: Studies in Black Politics and Black Communities.
In Prof. Cohen's new role as Deputy Provost for Graduate Education, she leads a critical assessment of the graduate experience across the University, considering new programs and paradigms necessary to define graduate education for the future.
|Black youth want to be politically active but believe government ignores them; they back sex education in schools and practice safe sex; they’re top consumers of rap music but disapprove of its violence and portrayal of women.|
Although African-American youth are just as politically motivated as Hispanic and white youth, believing that they have the skills to participate and can make a difference, they are skeptical of the political process, asserting that, “leaders in government care little about people like me.” This conclusion is the result of a new comprehensive national study of youth opinions, which also shows that black youth are more likely than Hispanics and whites to use protection during sex, are critical consumers of rap music and videos, and are more conservative in their social attitudes than other youth.
The study, titled the Black Youth Project, was launched to provide a more comprehensive and complex perspective of African-American youth, said Cathy Cohen, leader of the project and Professor in Political Science at the University of Chicago. “There has been a lot of talk about African-American youth from people like Bill Cosby. Unfortunately, most of these comments are not grounded in any type of empirical reality. Similarly, there have been a number of other studies of African-American young people, largely focused on the outcomes of their behaviors that do not include the voices and views of young black people.
“The Black Youth Project is committed to making the ideas and attitudes of young people our central focus. By asking young people themselves about important issues like sex education, police discrimination, abortion or same-sex marriage, the Black Youth Project is able to provide data that will help build effective policies that can significantly improve the lives and prospects of young black people. This study is about research, not ranting,” said Cohen.
The team surveyed 1,590 black, white and Hispanic youth nationwide between the ages of 15 and 25 to ask them about their sexual behaviors and attitudes, about their views on social and cultural issues, and their opinions on government and politics, as well as other topics. The researchers also conducted in-depth interviews with about 40 young black people who completed the survey.
On political issues, the team found both hopeful and discouraging signs of political engagement among black youth.
The study also found young people embracing newer forms of political involvement. A quarter of black youth, nearly the same amount as those in the other groups, reported “buycotting” during the last 12-months (buying a product because of the company’s social or political values). Smaller but significant percentages of all young people reported signing either paper or e-mail petitions, and sending an e-mail or posting on a political blog.
A majority of young people, mostly young African Americans (76 percent), reported feeling very sure they could tell their partners what they felt comfortable doing sexually. Nearly 90 percent of young people in each ethnic and racial group felt they could convince their partners to use protection before having sex, the survey showed. More than 90 percent of all young people surveyed agreed that sex education should be mandatory in high schools.
Young people also reported confidence in their ability to pick up on negative messages in rap music, which is listened to daily by 58 percent of black youth, compared with 45 percent of Hispanic youth and 23 percent of white youth.
“The overwhelming majority of young people agree with the statement: ‘Rap music videos contain too many references to sex,’” Cohen said. The study found that 72 percent of black and Hispanic youth agreed with the statement, which was supported by 68 percent of white youth. Similarly, the majority of all youth agree that, “rap music videos portray black women in negative and offensive ways,” with black women and girls more likely to strongly agree with this statement. The study showed that 62 percent of black youth, 54 percent of Hispanic youth and 62 percent of white youth think rap music videos are degrading to black women.
On social issues, the surveys found that African-American young people are more likely to agree that homosexuality is always wrong (55 percent for blacks, 36 percent for Hispanics and 35 percent for whites). A majority of African-American youth also opposed legalizing same-sex marriages, (58 percent for blacks, 36 percent for Hispanics and 35 percent for whites).
More information about the survey is available at blackyouthproject.com. The Ford Foundation financed the Black Youth Project. The data was gathered by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
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