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Alexandra Saizan

Tulane’s political science department welcomed MelissaHarris-Perry this year.

Harris-Perry, a former Princeton University professor, said shewas not drawn to the field of politics until after she earned herundergraduate degree.

“It wasn’t till I got to graduate school and I made a decisionto go into political science,” Harris-Perry said. “Probably for thesame reason people think about things like public policy or any ofthat, which is that I really wanted to make a difference in theworld.”

After receiving her graduate degree in political science,Harris-Perry went on to teach at the University of Chicago, whereshe worked with notable members of the Chicago community.

“I was teaching at the same time that Barack Obama was teaching,and when he ran for the Senate, I had just published my first bookabout African-American politics,” Harris-Perry said. “So I was kindof a local expert during a time when two African American peoplewere running in the Senate race in Illinois, and that [gave me] alot of opportunities for local Chicago television.”

It was that situation that gave Harris-Perry the opportunity torise onto the national stage.

“In all honesty, if President Obama had never run for theSenate, I would never have ended up like this,” she said.

Harris-Perry has appeared on numerous political talk shows,including “Real Time with Bill Maher,” “The Daily Show” and “TheRachel Maddow Show.” She is also a regular host of the “Lawrence O’Donnell Show” on MSNBC.

Harris-Perry regards her influence in the American politicalsphere as both a blessing and a responsibility.

“It’s also a lot of fun,” she said. “The opportunities I’ve hadjust to meet several people. Sometimes, it’s just sort of fun to goon TV and talk about a topic.”

Harris-Perry brings this experience to her teaching, where shefocuses on the study of gender, race and politics in the South.

“I think it’s really interesting how even though ProfessorHarris-Perry has a certain perspective on TV, she is veryacademic-minded in her work and is very serious and inspires a lotof intellectual curiosity in her students,” said Matt Berry, ajunior in Harris-Perry’s course on Women in Politics and theMedia.

Harris-Perry’s background in political analysis carries over toher other projects to Tulane. She said she hopes to impact thecommunity by founding the Anna Julia Cooper Center, a researchfacility for post-graduate study on gender and race in theSouth.

The center will be part of Newcomb-Tulane College. Along withfunding pre-doctorate research, it will also bring lecturers toTulane and partner with local organizations to offer studentsservice learning opportunities.

Harris-Perry said she is looking forward to her new position ofleadership on campus.

“My research, my work, my interests have really been very muchcentered on New Orleans ever since Hurricane Katrina,” Harris-Perrysaid. “For me, Tulane is an incredibly exciting place. It’s verymuch trying to figure out where it’s going next, which I findinteresting.”

Her students said they are excited about learning from her andhaving the opportunity to delve deeper into this subjectmatter.

“She’s very vibrant,” said Kat Combs, a senior takingHarris-Perry’s class. “She’s very engaging. It’s really great.She’s very good at bringing lots of different ideas to the tableand giving us a different way to approach the topic.”

Harris-Perry said she is also enthusiastic about the impact hernew students will make on her.

“You need your students to keep telling you what matterspolitically, how the world is changing,” Harris-Perry said. “Ifanything, I’m just hoping that I [contribute] to the university andparticularly to the political science department by complicatingAmerican politics.”