Humphrey School News—April 21, 2017

Humphrey School Professor Samuel Myers, Jr., Honored as Activist Scholar

In recognition of his distinguished research on the impacts of social policies on low-income communities, Humphrey School of Public Affairs Professor Samuel Myers, Jr., received the Marilyn Gittell Activist Scholar Award from the Urban Affairs Association (UAA) and SAGE Publishing Friday at the UAA’s annual meeting in Minneapolis.

The award honors the contributions of urban scholars who engage in field-based research that incorporates direct engagement with local residents and organizations in the host community for the annual UAA conference.  

Myers, an economist, is director of the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice at the Humphrey School. He is a pioneer in the use of applied econometric techniques to examine such issues as racial disparities in crime, illegal discrimination in credit markets, and the impacts of welfare on family stability, among others.

The nominating committee selected Myers based on how his “trajectory and breadth of work brings to light the real material conditions of racial income inequality…. We appreciated especially his political economic analyses that reveal, challenge, and inform the discursive battles shaping policy that produce racial income inequality.”

In accepting the award, Myers thanked the sponsors for “acknowledging the value of scholarly research conducted in the interest of community activism.” He noted the contradiction that exists between research and scholarship on one hand, and community engagement and advocacy on the other.  

“The presumed contradiction is that one cannot maintain rigor or objectivity and also care deeply about local communities and the problems those communities face,” said Myers. “This is particularly true when the policy issue is race, and is confounded when the scholar is a person of color.”

Myers doesn’t see himself has an advocate in the traditional sense, however, but rather someone who empowers advocates and provides them with the skills they need to be effective.

“This award is not so much for me as it is for the untold number of scholars who dare to challenge the conventional detachment from community-oriented research, and who take personal and professional risks in devoting their time to helping leaders in our local communities,” Myers said.

The award is named for Marilyn Gittell, former director of the Howard Samuels Center and professor of political science at the graduate school at City University of New York. Gittell was a scholar and community activist who was committed to training young urban scholars of color and women, and teaching them to understand the workings of democracy from the ground up, using the methods of rigorous field research.  

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