Professor celebrated for her dedication to social justice

October 22, 2021

Headshot of Khalilah Brown-Dean

Associate Provost for Faculty Aff­airs and Professor of Political Science Khalilah Brown-Dean wasn’t expecting an award when she received a phone call from the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame (CWHF) last April.

An anonymous nomination on Brown-Dean’s behalf earned her a Spotlight Recipient recognition during the CWHF’s 28th annual Leaders of Social Justice ceremony. Her professional and personal dedication to inclusivity, democracy and representation is now even more poignant, as Brown-Dean works to define increased economic disparities created by the COVID pandemic and identify potential solutions.

The sold-out induction ceremony took place at the Mortensen Plaza Riverfront Park in Hartford on September 29th.

“The energy of the hundreds of people there to celebrate these women was amazing, particularly because of COVID and how so many of us have felt distance from others,” said Brown-Dean. “It was a wonderful reminder how the recipients are building for their communities, no matter the circumstance.”

Brown-Dean is a respected political science professor, the author of dynamic work including Identity Politics in the United States, and a frequent guest analyst for major news outlets including The New York Times, MSNBC and the Los Angeles Times. She also hosts Disrupted, a weekly Connecticut Public Radio show and podcast.

Brown-Dean’s notable work exceeds the scholarly into the community. She is a past Board Chair of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, and currently chairs the Greater New Haven COVID-19 Community Fund.
The fund is a platform for members of the New Haven community who lost their small businesses; who endure continually worsened food insecurity; and those suffering from other exacerbated inequities due to COVID, said Brown-Dean.

“The pandemic made us realize that a lot of things we thought we can control in our lives are actually beyond our control,” said Brown-Dean. “In my work professionally and personal life, I chose to focus on things we could control and things we can make better for other people."

These experiences inform Protesting Vulnerability: Race and Pandemic Politics, her book which is currently under contract with Cambridge University Press. Brown-Dean partners with Ray Block, a Penn State Associate Professor of Political Science and African American Studies, on the manuscript.

Protesting Vulnerability builds on research from public opinion polls, rates of voting, and the levels of engagement in recent national uprisings around police brutality, politics and COVID protocols such as school closures and mask mandates.

“The book looks at what it is that people are really protesting. The core is being vulnerable, especially being vulnerable between life and death. It’s about how people are navigating that,” she said.

Since Brown-Dean’s childhood, the notions of social justice and truly inclusive democracy remain paramount. Her mother worked in local government and her grandparents were avid voters who extolled the importance of an active citizenship.

“I was always interested in how politics were applied from the ground floor up,” says Brown-Dean.

Brown-Dean initially saw herself as a lawyer and planned her higher education accordingly. However, a political science seminar the summer before her senior year helped her realize the potential of a different kind of work, she explained.

While the path to social justice and inclusion in the U.S. undoubtedly remains a mired and lengthy journey, Brown-Dean finds rich inspiration among other CWHF award recipients. This includes Jerimarie Liesegang, who was posthumously honored as an exemplary advocate for the Transgender community in the 1980’s and 90’s.

“It was a reminder that I can do things that I can do, and that there are women on front lines in other ways. Each of us are making priority of the issues we’re working on, and it’s encouraging when you can see yourself in others,” said Brown-Dean.

When asked what she looks forward to professionally, Brown-Dean reflected on what she already values in her daily life: When former students reach out to share how her teachings help their understanding of current events, or when she sees small businesses thrive from grants she helped to match them with.

“It’s the opportunity to use the opportunities I have to build opportunities for other people. That’s what I look forward to the most,” said Brown-Dean.

Stay in the Loop

Sign Up Now