Harris-Lacewell draws on 16 years of her journals for brownbag forum

By Lokchi Lam

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, assistant professor in the department of political science, spoke to members of the University community on Thursday in the Reynold’s Club as part of Rockefeller Chapel’s ongoing series, “What Matters to Me and Why.”

Revealing that she had read 16 years of her journals in an attempt to empirically answer that very question, beginning when she dropped out of high school and entered college with a “raging” eating disorder, Harris-Lacewell said she discovered not what really mattered to her but a “stunning consistency” in her preoccupations across the years: losing 15 pounds, paying debts, and “getting him to love me”—even after becoming a professor and a “nerd at Pick Hall.”

She said, however, that taking seminars at Princeton University convinced her that it is actually more nerdy than the U of C.

Unable to find answers through an excavation of her past, Harris-Lacewell turned to “normative ethical principles.” She touched on the subject of white supremacy, which she said still “limits and prescribes the lives of blacks” and gender justice, adding: “Without choices about reproduction, we cannot make choices about work or love.”

Noting an important distinction between justice and charity, Harris-Lacewell admitted that while her work does not directly combat racism, it “honors —my ancestors didn’t get the opportunity…to do the work I want to do, exactly the way I want to do it.”

She concluded, “What matters to me is trying to get it right for my Protestant work ethic, for my indulgent humanist background. To get democracy right—to get it right as a social scientist.”