Two grad students receive ASA DDRIG grants

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Benny Witkovsky and Madison Garcia received ASA Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grants (ASA DDRIGs), which support theoretically grounded empirical investigations to advance understanding of fundamental social processes.

Benny Witkovsky’s dissertation is titled “Fig Leaves or Fortresses: Nonpartisan Politics in a Polarized Time.”

For more than a century, all city politics in Wisconsin—and in 75% of cities across the country—have been officially nonpartisan. Today, these institutions contend with a partisan polarization that has grown more encompassing, intense, and intimate. Nowhere is this more evident than in small cities, which combine robust nonpartisan institutions with deep partisan divides. This project pursues a qualitative, comparative study of nonpartisan municipal politics in four Wisconsin cities. Using innovative methods and data, including analyzing video recordings of city council meetings, reviewing local political party social media activity, compiling new datasets of local election results and voting patterns on city councils, and conducting extensive archival research, I examine how local nonpartisan actors resist, exploit, and succumb to partisan polarization. This research highlights the real pitfalls of one of the nation’s greatest experiments in mitigating partisan conflict—one that should be a lesson for future reforms. The tense relationship between nonpartisan government and partisan polarization is not merely a parochial issue of urban politics. It should concern anyone who studies development, public health, policing, election administration, and other issues shaped by local government.

Madison Garcia’s dissertation is titled “‘We Can Get You More Money:’ The Opportunities and Challenges of Nonprofit-Based Solutions for Inequities in the Transition to College.”

In the U.S. context of declining public education funding, legal attacks on affirmative action, and persistent inequities in higher education, college access nonprofit organizations (CANs) have stepped in to support the transition to college among students from systematically marginalized groups. CANs have had varied success in overcoming college-going barriers. Less is known, however, about why they work and how the challenges they face– as nonprofits supporting multiply marginalized youth– influence their operation and, thereby, success. Using multi-level data from 15 months of ethnographic observations and interviews at one site, Pathways–South L.A. (PSLA; a pseudonym) that is part of a larger college access nonprofit organization, I examine how the organization’s staff attempt to promote college-going among low income, first-generation Latinx youth of varying citizenship and immigrant statuses. I also examine how the organizational challenges PSLA faces influence their work and ability to achieve their goals. This research has implications for addressing inequalities in college attendance and persistence. This work furthers understanding of what’s working in CANs, the constraints that undermine their impact, and more broadly, advances understanding of the implications of leaving nonprofit organizations to fill gaps in promoting college-going among systematically and multiply marginalized groups.