The Bunche Experience

By Kiah Lewis

Every year, 20 students from across the nation are chosen to participate in the Ralph Bunche Summer Institute (RBSI) at Duke University, directed by Dr. Paula McClain. Ralph Bunche, the 1950’s Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was a passionate advocate for ed- ucation and civil rights. In honor of his endeavors, this program is geared toward encouraging minority students to pursue research in political science. Participants take grad- uate-level courses in Statistics and Race & Politics, which supplement an original research project that is completed over the course of the program. Additionally, the Graduate School Fair and weekly presenters provide substantial networking opportunities. I was fortunate enough to be afforded this notable opportunity, and the experience has provided me life-long friends and will continue inspiring me to pursue research in political science.

Academically, RBSI was one of the most challenging experiences of my college career so far. One participant described the program as “one of those things that you look back on and think ‘how did I get through that?’ but are happy that you did it.” The weekly readings and discussions on race and politics were extensive yet thought provoking. After the first class discussion, fellow participants and I spent nearly the rest of the day debating issues presented in class. However, as engaging as those discussions were, the biggest challenge of RBSI was completing an original, empirical-based research project over the course of only four weeks. Using statistical analysis from various data sets, we developed and tested a hypothesis derived from our research interest. Although this was a great deal of work, I enjoyed putting forth the effort, especially since we were able to focus on a topic that was of personal interest. I wrote my paper on Black/Latino coalitions – it was called, “Commonality – Competition = Coalition? The Effect of Hispanic Perceptions of Competition with Blacks on the Potential for Coalition Building.”

As the program moved forward, the coursework became more rigorous, but we received a great deal of support from the RBSI faculty and staff. As one Bunche participant noted, “The professors and teach- ing assistants present at RBSI were … intellectual, passionate about what they were doing, and really helped [us] along the way.” In addition, the partici- pants formed a support group that allowed us to laugh at 2 a.m. in the computer lab while holding each other accountable to complete our work.

RBSI challenged me academically and I have also built social networks that I feel will last a lifetime. At first, I did not realize that my acceptance into RBSI was a welcome into a close network of political scientists known as ‘Bunches’; however one of the noteworthy aspects of this program was the relationships built with other scholars. As one scholar expressed, “fellow participants brought a wealth of experiences, goals, and perspectives … Indeed, they are the ones who have made the greatness of this experience unique and unrepeatable.” I look forward to seeing my fellow Bunches accomplish great things in the world of political science.

Kiah Lewis is a government senior. She is the first student from the University of Texas to attend the Ralph Bunche Institute of the American Political Science Association.