Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Grasping Black Politics

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Grasping Black Politics

Article excerpt

If you ask Dr. Ravi K. Perry how he defines himself, he is quick to point out that he's a scholar/activist.

"All of my work has been aligned with my goal of trying to impact the lived conditions of marginalized communities," says Perry, who is currently chair and associate professor of the department of Political Science at Virginia Commonwealth University.

At 35, Perry is likely one of the youngest department chairs at a Research 1 university, where he provides leadership for a department that includes 17 full-time faculty and more than 700 student majors, a third of whom are students of color, and many more who hail from first-generation and low-income families.

Perry grew up in a family of academicians. His father, Dr. Robert Perry, is viewed as a pioneer in the field of ethnic studies and was one of the founders of the National Association for Ethnic Studies - the nonprofit that his son would lead for two years.

He remembers Harry Belafonte and authors Maya Angelou and James Baldwin passing through his home in Toledo, Ohio, to visit with his father, who spent nearly three decades as director and chair of ethnic studies at Bowling Green State University. His mother, a retired public school teacher, also taught in the Africana Studies Department at the University of Toledo.

For Perry, who is openly gay, the role of academic and activist is one and the same. Several years ago, he surprised some of his contemporaries when he left a tenure-track faculty position at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, and moved with his husband to the conservative town of Starkville, Mississippi, to begin a professorship at Mississippi State University (MSU).

During his tenure at MSU, Perry became a visible presence on campus. He served as the faculty adviser to LGBTQ students and was able to "help the community of Starkville move forward on LGBT initiatives," while churning out several scholarly works, including a book that was co-authored with his mother, Dr. D. LaRouth Perry, about the fight to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957.

Perry's mother, who now has Alzheimer's, grew up in Little Rock and was friends with the youngsters who would go on to integrate the high school as The Little Rock Nine. …

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