photo of Carol Conaway

Political scientist studies black mayors in the media

Carol Conaway '70 is an expert on the power of language-especially when it comes to politics. This year Conaway, assistant professor of political science at College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, is one of 25 awardees in the country to receive a Ford Foundation Post-Doctoral Fellowship for Minorities. She will spend a year researching, analyzing and writing about the portrayal of African American mayors in the media at host institution Wellesley College.

Conaway is studying press coverage of two African American mayors after riots occurred in their cities: the late Tom Bradley, former mayor of Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots, and David Dinkins, former mayor of New York City during the Crown Heights conflict. She hopes to interview Dinkins and his staff, some of Bradley's key staffers, and newspaper reporters from both the New York Times and the L.A. Times. "The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times had high hopes for their first black mayors," Conaway says. "My question is, what did newspaper coverage of the mayors and their administrations reveal, and what possible effect did it have on the political destinies of both mayors?"

At Holy Cross, a Jesuit liberal arts college, Conaway is "the first black that many of my students have ever encountered in a position of authority." Her self-designed classes in the political science department (headed by chair Caren Dubnoff '64) include Principles of American Government, Race and Politics, Media and Politics, and Women and American Politics. Conaway takes care to "balance out eye-opening material and lectures." Taking cues from favorite former professors Milton Nahm and Isabel Scribner Stearns, she teaches her students "how to think and how to look at the world in a very different manner than how they're used to looking at it. I want them to leave thinking that they can make a difference."

The path leading to Conaway's academic career was meandering. At 23, under former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo, she became a policy advisor for two major federal programs to benefit poor minority groups, overseeing a $60 million budget: "a very heady experience." Ensuing stints included researching housing discrimination for Abt Associates, a Cambridge social sciences think tank, and coordinating education programs for the Boston Sickle Cell Center at Boston City Hospital. Then she started her own consulting business, helping nonprofit community agencies gain foundation support. When clients questioned her lack of a graduate degree, she headed for MIT, where she found herself immersed in preparation for an academic career. Her PhD dissertation exposed the nationalistic language of a popular Rabbinic commentary on the book of Genesis.

Conaway was first drawn to studying newspaper coverage of the Crown Heights conflict between African Americans and Lubavitcher Hasidic Jews because "it involved the cultural and religious groups to which I belong as an African American Jew. That work inspired my new project on press coverage of big city minority majors because the Los Angeles and Crown Heights riots were not only interracial, but interethnic as well."

Judaism, Conaway says, is one of two things she has ever been sure of in her life. When exposed to it at the age of 12, she "knew immediately that that was my culture." She converted in her early 20's. Conaway had a similar epiphany when she visited Bryn Mawr for the first time. "Bryn Mawr has infused everything I have done since I stepped through the door at Pem West," she says. "Bryn Mawr is my standard."

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