THE 2023 AMERICAN STUDIES ASSOCIATION ANGELA Y. DAVIS PRIZE FOR OUTSTANDING PUBLIC SCHOLARSHIP
Professor Cathy Cohen
Professor Cathy Cohen’s career exemplifies the ethos of the Angela Davis’ Prize’s. As a scholar, institution builder, mentor, and activist, Professor Cohen “has worked to educate the public and address inequalities in imaginative, practical and applicable forms.” As detailed in many of the letters of support, Cohen’s groundbreaking scholarship including, “Punks, Bull Daggers, and Welfare Queens: The Real Radical Potential of ‘Queer’ Politics,” “Deviance as Resistance: A New Research Agenda for the Study of Black Politics,” and the awarding winning book The Boundaries of Blackness: AIDS and the Breakdown of Black Politics, urges us to be more attuned to the operation of power, to think critically about the possibilities and perils of identity politics, and to take seriously the imaginative acts of resistance that emerge from those pushed to the margins. As the nomination letter makes clear, Cohen’s generative and insightful scholarship, “emerges from and alongside her work to create the concrete conditions for the formation of new political constituencies” both in and beyond the university.
This commitment to scholarship infused by activism has remained a consistent practice throughout Cohen’s career. During her time as an Assistant Professor, Cohen helped to establish key institutional and collective spaces for LGBTQ activists and scholars of color. She was a core organizer of the historic 1995 Black Nations/Queer Nations conference at CUNY, served on the Board of the transformative Kitchen Table Press, and was a member of the steering committee that founded and later served as a founding Board Co-Chair of the Audre Lorde Project (ALP), the country’s first LGBTQ of color organizing center. More recently, she founded the Black Youth Project (BYP), a data-based research project. Through BYP Cohen helped to coordinate institutional support and mentorship for the founding of BYP100, a member-based youth organization fighting against the carceral state and anti-blackness. She has also contributed considerable labor to carving out space for collective intellectual projects and social justice work within the university. At the University of Chicago, she has served several stints as Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, chaired the Department of Political Science, and is currently serving as chair of the newly formed Department of Race, Diaspora, and Indigeneity (RDI). As the authors of the nominating letter note, Cohen’s “leadership within and beyond the university is marked by a collective ethos that aims to empower new voices, develop the capacities of those around her, and pursue the collective will…”. The impact and reach of Professor Cohen’s contributions shines through the numerous scholar-activists and American Studies members she has influenced, inspired, and/or mentored.
“I study young people because they are inspiring. I believe in the collective power of young people to demand justice, to build movements that reimagine the world, that reimagine our relationship to each other, as well as the planet. And because young people are willing to engage in struggle, struggle that moves us closer to liberation, that moves us closer to true freedom and joy.”
– Cathy J. Cohen