Political ScienceExploring The Politics Of ReformDesiree PedescleauxTitle: Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies and Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Spelman College
Education: Ph.D., M.A., Political Science, Yale University; B.A., Political Science, Southern University, Baton Rouge, La.
Age: 42Dr. Desiree Pedescleaux always thought she would be a lawyer. In fact, everyone else did too. Then one day one of her professors at Southern University in Baton Rouge, who also was the chair of the political science department, changed all that.
“I’ll never forget her calling me in and showing me her own college album when she was a student at Southern,” Pedescleaux recalls. “She was the first African American woman to receive her Ph.D. in political science in the U.S. She told me, ‘You will be in political science.’ ”
And that was that.
Pedescleaux credits her mentor, Dr. Jewel Limar Prestage, now retired, with recognizing in her what she didn’t see in herself — a developing love and appreciation for political science. Prestage steered Pedescleaux to political science associations meetings and advised her on reading lists.
“Her exceptionality shined through in her undergraduate days,” says Prestage from her home in Houston. “She was always interested in expanding her experiences beyond the classroom. She was intellectually curious and trying to find ways to be better at whatever she was doing.”
Prestage remembers vividly pulling out Pedescleaux and two other students from their classes one day. The students were supposed to have completed applications to a summer program at the Carnegie Mellon Institute but deadline day arrived and the applications were not done.
“I sort of held the students hostage in the library that day,” Prestage recalls. They completed the applications and all three were accepted into the program.
Pedescleaux went on to receive her master’s and doctorate in political science at Yale University, where she began her longtime research on urban politics. Her dissertation, “Transition, Incorporation and Governmental Responsiveness in Two American Cities,” earned her a Ford Foundation Dissertation Award.
Today she serves as associate dean of undergraduate studies at Spelman College in Atlanta. She loves teaching so much she chose not to take a reduced course load even as she serves as chair of the political science department. She continues to teach national government, Constitutional law, civil liberties and urban politics, and was selected for Spelman’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1999.
“The phrase ‘still waters run deep’ characterizes Professor Pedescleaux,” says Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College. “She is a thoughtful, soft-spoken person who does not seek center stage. She prefers to work behind the scenes. But when she speaks, others listen. She is an excellent example of the ideal scholar-teacher, one who can engage her students in the world of ideas, while remaining intellectually vital herself, through her scholarship.”
Pedescleaux wrote, with several authors, The Color of School Reform: Race, Politics and the Challenge of Urban Education, published by Princeton University Press in 1999. It received the Best Book Award in urban politics from the Urban Politics Section of the American Political Science Association the following year.
“We found that even in Black-led cities such as Detroit and Baltimore, where Blacks are in the mayor’s office and in the majority on governing boards, race is still a complicating factor in school reform as in politics. American schools are falling further behind, she says. “Education should be the concern of everyone,” she says.
— By Eleanor Lee Yates
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