Professor Gary Lynn Harris and graduate student Dana McCalla use Howard University's new Graduate School Research and Media Center after a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on its campus Dec. 9. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Professor Gary Lynn Harris and graduate student Dana McCalla use Howard University's new Graduate School Research and Media Center after a ribbon-cutting ceremony held on its campus Dec. 9. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Americans are voting. Not just to elect candidates of their choice but to also express their opinions on matters that affect their lives.

Should the president be reelected? Should he be impeached? Has he been good – or bad – for Black people? Is anyone calling Black Americans to ask their opinion or inviting them to participate in national or local polls?

The views of Americans surveyed or polled are frequently reported. Still, researchers at Howard University believe the opinions of Black people are absent from the public and that it’s time to hear what Black people think.

With a focus on economics, political science, sociology and communication, culture and media studies, Howard University graduate faculty members recently hosted a ribbon-cutting of the newly-established Graduate School Research and Media Center – a think tank and podcast studio used to collect, analyze and report research findings of opinions of the Black Diaspora, located in the Graduate School at 4th and College Streets, N.W.

Dr. Gary L. Harris, graduate dean emeritus, in whose honor the new research center is named, said that at 60 years old, he has never been asked to participate in a poll.

“I wonder how many other African Americans are out there that are my age that have never been polled or asked what we think?” he said.

Dr. Terri Adams-Fuller, interim chair of the Department of Sociology and Criminology, said the faculty asked themselves recently at a faculty retreat, “What can we do to add to the public discourse and represent the African American diaspora?”

Located on two floors of the Graduate School, the first floor is a digital broadcast center that produces webinars and podcasts. The second floor has eight workstations that are furnished with telephones and desktop computers that will enable scholars to conduct interviews and record data. There are also leasing opportunities to nonprofits and other organizations for fundraising and grants.

“It’s a beginning,” said Dr. Lorenzo Morris, professor of the Department of Political Science. “But we want to make it known that there is no other place where there is such a resource for understanding what the African-American community thinks on a broad range of political and social issues.”

In 2016, the National Newspaper Publishers Association [NNPA] awarded the Institute a grant to conduct a National Black Voter Poll, the first national-level scientific study focused exclusively on voters who identify as African American, Afro-Hispanic or other black identities. Nine hundred voters were polled out of 22,000 telephone calls that showed African-American women would lead among voters in the presidential election. The poll was historic despite inadequate equipment and insufficient space provided for the students to work.

“Black women turnout wasn’t news,” said Dr. Harris, “but what we could have predicted was the low Black voter turnout in places like Michigan and elsewhere. Our research could have made a difference in states’ get-out-the-vote efforts,” he said.

Less than a year later, the NNPA, in conjunction with Pfizer, funded the group for a second study to research African-Americans’ awareness and attitudes about sickle cell disease and clinical trials.

Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, NNPA President and CEO, commended Howard for supporting the research center and stressed the importance and need for a Black polling center.

“Most national polls skew the realities of the Black community. We are often under-counted, under-valued, and under-researched,” he said.

“It’s really about trying to collect data so that we can come up with the best possible solutions to solving some of our problems that we encounter on a regular basis,” Dr. Harris said.

“And, we need to make sure we have black and brown faces at the table,” said Dr. Adams -Fuller, “to ensure we are getting the opinions of the community from people who look like the community asking the questions.”

Denise Rolark Barnes

Denise Rolark Barnes is the publisher and second-generation owner of The Washington Informer, succeeding her father, the late Dr. Calvin W. Rolark, who founded the newspaper in 1964. The Washington...

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